Assistant Headteacher Andrew Moffat reportedly resigned from his job after being targeted by parents with religious beliefs that did not want him to teach their children ‘that it is OK to be gay’.
I’ve known Andrew for many years and he is a keen advocate of equality and diversity in the classroom and he has written the resource Challenging Homophobia in Primary Schools (CHIPS). One of Andrew’s key phrases to his pupils is ‘there are no outsiders’. OFSTED are very keen that schools tackle homophobia and it is on their inspection criteria to ask staff and pupils about ways that their school tackles this type of bullying as this is in line with the Equality Act 2010. The Act has nine characteristics that are protected including sexual orientation and religion or belief. Sexuality and religion has always been a contentious issue, religion and sexual orientation have never really gone hand in hand, it has often been at a juxtaposition – only the other night I was watching TV and on Channel 4 you had Our Gay Wedding: The Musical celebrating the marriage of West End star Nathan Taylor and composer Benjamin Till whilst at the same time you saw Rev on BBC2 having to negotiate his faith and his position in the Church with his same-sex couple parishioners who were wanting to have a wedding at the evenings Eucharist however Rev could only say a few words but could not perform a marriage ceremony which left the couple and the wedding guests disappointed. Rev was then subject to a comedic inquiry as to whether or not he had held a gay wedding. At the end of the programme Rev marries the couple albeit in private with no guests to balance his own conscience.
Continuing on the subject of religion and sexuality, recently I was invited to be in the audience of the BBC 3 Free Speech debate at Birmingham Central Mosque about Islam and sexuality – this never took place as the Mosque was uncomfortable about having this discussion within a place of worship. A media frenzy ensued about Free Speech censoring itself although it denied this and put it down to security reasons (The Guardian, 2014). The naivety shown by the producers of BBC3 to assume that this type of debate could take place at a Mosque demonstrated they lacked the sensitivity and understanding of this topic within Islam. I watched the debate a couple of weeks later on TV as it took place at the Broadwater Farm Estate in Tottenham. Asifa Lahore discussed being a gay Muslim and some audience members expressed their religious belief that a ‘person cannot be gay and be a Muslim’ and others supported Asifa’s side. Once again this debate demonstrated the complex relationship between religion and sexuality and this is often missed in the reporting of stories by media outlets.
I find the reporting of the Andrew Moffat’s story by mainstream and LGBT media outlets to be hypocritical. On the one hand they argue the injustice that Andrew has experienced as a gay assistant head teacher but at the same time they expressed a distain towards those with religious beliefs. The discourse of Islamophobia that is interwoven into the articles exhibits ignorance and displays a lack of respect towards Islam. It’s interesting to note how the reporting of Andy Moffat’s story by the Independent and the Huffington Post demonstrated this by stating that;
‘A dozen schools in Birmingham are under investigation by the Department for Education (DfE) over allegations of financial mismanagement and the introduction of Islamic practices.’
The Independent, 2014 carried on with;
‘Last month a document entitled Operation Trojan Horse was circulated. It was alleged to be a blueprint for Islamic hardliners on how to take control of schools in several cities. Chilwell Croft and Mr Moffat told The Sunday Times they did not believe that their case was connected with those allegations.’
And the Metro, 2014 stated;
‘However, in a further twist, it has emerged that fellow tutors fear Mr Moffat could have been the victim of plot to replace non-Muslim teachers with more hardline educators.’
I find that even though the above quotes have been included in the articles by the different media outlets – were these quotes really necessary? What purpose do these quotes serve? The article is not about Operation Trojan Horse and has no links to it. One has to ask why this information is included? I can only draw the conclusion that media outlets are institutionally Islamophobic. The Muslim Council of Britain are asking for social cohesion and responsible journalism which seems to have been ignored by these media outlets. Surely the article should be about a teacher’s experience of not being supported by his senior management team in tackling the issue effectively rather than a witch hunt against Islam. These media outlets have ultimately been disrespectful to our own community as we have members of our community who are LGBT and Muslim. People in our community practice religion, for example last year during Birmingham Pride, Quest – the LGBT Catholic group and Journey MCC held an event at the Matchbox café to remember those who lost their lives to AIDS. Another example of an organisation that is both LGBT and religious is Imaan – the Muslim LGBTQI support group in London who supports ‘LGBT Muslim people, their families and friends, to address issues of sexual orientation within Islam. Imaan promotes the Islamic values of peace, social justice and tolerance through its work, and aspires to bring about a world that is free from prejudice and discrimination against all Muslims and LGBT people.’ (Imaan, 2014).
So to conclude some parents with a religious view raised concerns with the head teacher at Chilwell Croft Academy about the school teaching their children it’s ‘ok to be gay’ because it conflicted with their religious beliefs and an assistant head teacher reportedly felt he had no choice but to resign. In turn media outlets have stirred up Islamophobia in their articles. In a society that is multi-cultural and multi-faith sexuality and religion are often difficult sites to navigate. The school could have handled the situation much better as the Muslim Council of Britain says that Muslim pupils can learn about LGBT people as they may study or work with LGBT people in the future. Most religions allow pupils to learn about other groups in society. It is ok to be gay in society, it is ok for people to try to understand each other or to raise their concerns so that we can talk, debate and come to some understanding about these issues and how we can go forward to teach pupils about sexualities. What isn’t ok is demonising one cause for another as it undermines equality and undermines our people who identify as LGBT and are religious. As Andrew Moffat would say to his pupils in his classroom ‘there are no outsiders, everybody is different, everybody is equal and that’s ok’
Written by Richard Barrie, Schools Development for Birmingham LGBT and PhD student at the University of Birmingham, School of Education researching ‘How do schools meet the needs of pupils’ sexualities?’