Birmingham LGBT row: 'Homophobic protests must stop'

By Sima Kotecha
Midlands correspondent, BBC News

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Birmingham LGBT row: Protest is 'homophobic' says mayor

Protests against LGBT teaching at a Birmingham primary school are "homophobic" and must "stop now", the West Midlands mayor has said.

Andy Street said he was in "disbelief" at material distributed by protesters outside Anderton Park Primary.

The mayor, who is gay, told the BBC he had thought homophobia was a "non-issue in our city".

A High Court injunction is in place banning protests, which have been going on for months, outside the school.

Parents started to gather at the gates over concerns children were "too young" to learn about LGBT relationships. They also said the lessons contradicted Islam.

In an exclusive interview, Mr Street said the protests do not reflect the "modern, tolerant, inclusive place that Birmingham is".

He has also said the Department for Education (DfE) needs to strengthen its guidance around equalities teaching.

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Hundreds of protesters gathered at Anderton Park Primary School last month

Mr Street said he was "determined to support the school's right and responsibility" to teach about equality and condemned some of the leaflets and banners being used by demonstrators.

"If you look at the literature and the banners, the first reaction is disbelief actually... [that] it could be said in this day and age.

"You look at what's being said and it's really upsetting but it is actually ultimately homophobic and it is illegal and it has to stop now."

'Not sex education'

But he added it was "too simplistic just to see this as an LGBT issue".

He said suggestions schools were teaching sex education in primary schools had been "misunderstood entirely".

Mr Street explained the lessons were "teaching [that] society contains different types of people and mustn't be too obsessed by the LGBT element of this debate because the principle at stake is much broader than that".

Image source, PA
Image caption,
Parents began protesting over concerns their children were "too young" to learn about LGBT relationships

Earlier, protesters held their first demonstration since the injunction was granted barring action immediately outside the school.

About 40 people gathered outside the exclusion zone on an area of grass about 100m from the school

The injunction remains in place until Monday when those against the diversity teachings will be given the chance to make their case in front of a judge.

The protest's main organiser, Shakeel Afsar, said a silent protest would be held at the court hearing.

Image source, PA
Image caption,
Protesters gathered for their first demonstration since the injunction was granted on Friday

Anderton Park head teacher Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson previously spoke of receiving threatening emails and phone calls and Mr Street said the government was letting head teachers down by not taking a clearer stand in favour of the teaching.

The Conservative mayor has now called on the DfE to "stand actively behind the guidance it has given" around teaching about equalities.

"I think it would be a much better situation if there was less about her judgement and much more about guidance that is general and is clearly followed by primary schools," Mr Street said.

"It's a very tough situation for this head teacher to have been put into, that's why I say I would like the DfE to be clearer still about what its requirements are."

The mayor is now seeking a meeting with DfE and also hopes a resolution can be found between the school and parents.

"I hope that there will be discussion between the school and the parents of children in that school," he said.

"One of the issues here has of course been that a lot of the demonstrators are not parents in that school.

"Of course I respect the right of parents to be deeply, deeply concerned about what happens in their children's school, but this protest has been somewhat moved away from that.

"I honestly believe if the school and the parents could sit down and look at what genuinely is happening - as has been the case for many years before now remember, this is not new material, this is not a new situation - I genuinely believe accommodation can be found."

Image caption,
Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson received threats and has branded the protests as "aggressive"

In an interview with The Times on Thursday, schools minister Nick Gibb said the DfE had been "engaging with the city council almost daily to help navigate a way to a resolution".

He said the protests were "wrong" in his view, and said he supported the council's decision to secure an injunction.

"We have worked hard over the last few weeks, patiently, quietly and behind the scenes, to defuse local tensions in Birmingham.

"We will always support head teachers and schools who are doing the right thing and ensuring that children leave school well educated and properly equipped to live and prosper in a modern society and a modern economy.

"And that includes having a full and proper understanding of British values and the way we live our lives today."

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