Compulsory sex and LGBT+ education sparks religious backlash in UK

A gay rights activist holds a rainbow flag while marching in downtown Belgrade. (Reuters pic)

LONDON: The introduction of mandatory sex education in Britain, including teaching about same-sex relationships and transgender identity, has sparked a backlash from religious parents and faith schools that want to be able to opt out from the new rules.

Sex education will become compulsory from the age of 12 in Sept 2020, according to new government guidelines published late on Monday.

Previously parents and faith schools had been able to opt out.

Under the new guidelines, parents can still take their children out of sex education lessons until the year before their 16th birthday.

Children will also learn about same-sex relationships before they turn 12 and that stereotypes based on gender and sexuality can be damaging.

Sex education “must be grounded in a firm understanding and valuing of positive relationships, and respect for others, from primary age,” Education Secretary Damian Hinds said in a statement.

Amanda Spielman, the head of Ofsted, which inspects English schools, said last week all children should learn that same-sex relationships are normal.

The first overhaul of sex and relationships education in Britain since 2000 sparked criticism from some religious parents and faith schools that want sex education and teaching about LGBT+ relationships to stay optional.

More than 100,000 people signed a petition arguing for the “fundamental right” to opt out of relationship and sex education, triggering a debate in Britain’s parliament on Monday.

“We have grave concerns about the physical, psychological and spiritual implications of teaching children about certain sexual and relational concepts… and believe that they have no place within a mandatory school curriculum,” the petition said.

“Parents need to have a right of withdrawal from sex education and this is one of the reasons why home education is growing,” said Clive Ireson, the head of the Association of Christian Teachers, a lobby group.

David Meyer, executive director of the Partnership for Jewish Schools (PaJeS), said schools were neither obligated to teach every religion, nor every type of disability.

“It is hard to justify why we should force schools to teach children at young age details of sexual relationships,” Meyer, a rabbi, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Meyer said he was in favour of “teaching every child tolerance and respect… including (for) LGBT”, but that no more emphasis should be placed on LGBT+ concerns than on any other equality issue.

Parents staged protests objecting to teaching about LGBT+ rights and same-sex relationships at a school in a predominantly Muslim area of Birmingham, Britain’s second-largest city, earlier this month.

But Shaun Dellenty, who has advised the government on LGBT+ education, said LGBT+ inclusion in education could save lives.

“There should be no get out clause for any learning community around the inclusion of LGBT+ identities and the teaching and celebration of same-sex families,” he said.

The new education guidelines will also see children aged 11 and older being taught about the harm caused by female genital mutilation (FGM), as well as grooming, forced marriage, domestic abuse and “honour-based abuse”.

“We know that FGM can have a catastrophic effect on the lives of those affected, causing life-long physical and psychological damage. Everyone must do all they can to protect women and girls from this extreme form of gendered violence,” Hinds said.

Children will also learn about physical and mental health and how to stay safe online, including the risks of sharing private photos.