Watching angry protesters waving placards outside a Birmingham primary school brought it all back for Khakan Qureshi. A softly spoken gay Muslim in his early 40s, he vividly remembers Margaret Thatcher denouncing the fact that children were being taught they “have an inalienable right to be gay” and introducing section 28 – the toxic product of Tory homophobia and a hysterical media moral panic – to prevent the so-called promotion of homosexuality in schools. The Guardian reports.
Now, in 2019, picketers – mostly, but not exclusively, from a Muslim background – are demanding that schools cease their LGBTQ-inclusive education. “I feel sad that I had to experience all that sort of mental angst all those years, being bullied, being picked on, being mocked,” he told me. “I just think that children should be allowed to be who they are, let us be who we are, let Muslims be who they are.”
If you listen to the protesters, you’d think that the No Outsiders programme – designed by Andrew Moffat, assistant headteacher at Parkfield community school – was teaching young children about gay sex. In truth, it’s about simply letting them know that gay people exist, that people are different, and that’s OK: one of the books in the programme features a chameleon who’s only happy when he’s finally himself; another shows different types of families – some have two parents, some have one, some are white, some are black, some have two mothers; another is a picturebook about a child with two mums doing all the normal things families do together.
As Moffat emphasises, it’s about preparing children to live in modern Britain, with all its diversity. Taking away this basic education will inflict the same harm that previous generations of young LGBTQ people endured.
“We should be talking about how there’s a shared level of oppression between LGBTQ people and Muslims,” said Ezra Stripe, of Hidayah, a British LGBTQ Muslim organisation. “Even if you don’t agree with someone’s sexuality, you should respect it, because they’re going through a similar experience to Muslims.” Donald Trump rose to power demonising Muslims and introducing the Muslim ban; he went on to attempt to ban trans peoplefrom serving in the US military and erase trans people as an identity, and watering down LGBTQ anti-discrimination protections.
The same newspapers that relentlessly hounded gay people now have both Muslims and trans people in their sights. “The way the rightwing media has fuelled hatred towards trans people and Muslim people has been happening in tandem over the past few years,” said British-Iraqi drag queen Amrou Al-Kadhi, “and so there is a similar intersection of intolerance that queer people and Muslim people face when it comes to violence from the right.”
Al-Kadhi faces attacks from multiple directions: from conservative Muslims for being queer, from rightwing gay people for being Muslim and Arab. Al-Kadhi noted how many French gay men voted for the far-right National Front, a party which campaigned vociferously against equal marriage. Indeed, I remember – while working as a barman in Manchester’s Gay Village over a decade ago – a fellow member of staff refusing to serve a customer they thought was a Muslim (he was, in fact, a Sikh).
The protests outside schools are disturbing, and their demands must be resisted: children must be taught that difference exists and that difference is OK. But it would be a tragedy to perpetuate bitter divisions between two oppressed and long-vilified minorities. It would be naive to portray this as straightforward: all oppressed groups are capable of their own oppression, as homophobia among Muslims and Islamophobia among LGBTQ people reveals. But a far right on the rise from Brazil to the US to Italy to Britain represents a grave menace to both Muslims and LGBTQ people. It would be tragic if we learn that to stand apart is to fall together.
Read the full article Muslims and LGBTQ people should stand together, not fight each other
Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter – Tamsin
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