Here in England, one of the more unexpected effects of Coronavirus is that the new Relationships and Sex Education Curriculum has been put on hold; there’s been no regular schooling for months. RSE is still there on the statutes, but instead of being compulsory from this September (2020), schools have until September 2021 to get themselves sorted out. So, I’m just waiting for the trans and homo phobias that raised their head in Spring, last year, all dressed up as parents’ rights, to kick off again.
Back then (I’m talking 2019), an outfit called ‘The School Gates Campaign’ distributed leaflets in east London that warned parents and guardians that the new curriculum would “promote transgenderism and homosexual lifestyles” (!!!) and, although they omitted this next bit from a re-draft, that RSE would teach infants how to masturbate. The Christian Institute (which I can’t believe speaks for all Christians) also focused on queer aspects: “Relationships Education will mean teaching young children about ‘different types’ of relationships, which could include homosexuality, transgenderism and same-sex marriage… this package of change could lead to the sex education industry, which promotes explicit materials, having much greater influence.” There were protests outside school gates. Small kids had to walk through dozens of shouting, aggressive people, some of whom, it transpired, had nothing to do with the schools; they were activists using the situation. The police were involved. Dispersal orders were issued. Depressing scenes every day on the news.
Better say what this is all about… We have an Equality Act here – everyone is unique and equal – and one of the ways in which the government sought to educate school-age children about its implications was to introduce the RSE curriculum, aspects of which have been taught in schools for years, incidentally. The new curriculum does not advocate any particular lifestyle choice and neither does it promote any particular orientation. So, for example, primary school pupils (that’s 4 or 5 to 11 year-olds) are educated about respect within their own relationships and towards people within other relationships. There’s a lot about how there are different types of families and different types of committed relationships. Secondary school pupils (that’s 11 up) have extra sections that involve sexual awareness: safety in sex, transmission of STDs, coercion etc. Parents and guardians cannot withdraw their children from the relationships sections, but they can withdraw their children from the sex components, until the children are fifteen or so, anyway. Then it’s up to the child.
Promoting equality via challenging stereotypes and highlighting diversity isn’t the sole reason for the new curriculum. There’s a huge focus on mental health and well-being. Nutrition, healthy exercise, personal safety, bullying, abortion and miscarriage… they’re all in there, particularly within the secondary curriculum, but they’re not the parts that people have focused on. I’m a mum, and I really do empathise with parents who want some say in what their children are being taught, and I totally, totally agree that childhood is a precious time and children shouldn’t be made to leave it behind them too soon, but –
A) I would get my facts straight before I started protesting and
B) I would never scare children (and staff) by protesting in the aggressive, violent, intimidating manner of the people involved in the demonstrations that occurred outside school gates, especially those gates outside the Birmingham primary school that found itself at the centre of the mayhem.
The deputy head at the school developed a programme called ‘No Outsiders’. (Foci: tolerance, inclusivity, respect for differences. Kind of obvious in the title.) The school decided to implement the new curriculum early. I’ve seen some of the books that are used. I didn’t see any references to sex, or to masturbation or to anything that would result in the sexual exploitation of the young children who read them. Instead, I saw simple, thoughtful tales with, sometimes, astonishingly beautiful illustrations. Example: Jessica Love’s Julian is a Mermaid. It’s just lovely. She wrote it and drew it. Gosh! Ironically, some of the books on the ‘No Outsiders’ programme have been around for years and no one has made a big fuss until now. And tango makes three, which is based on the true story of penguins at New York’s Central Park Zoo, was first published in 2005, I believe. I doubt if reading it in the fifteen years since then made any young reader actively want to take up ‘homosexual lifestyles’. It’s a book about penguins that can be used to explore ideas about relationships before the nasty world gets its claws in and perpetuates homophobia.
I don’t know. I don’t get it. I really don’t get it and, as always when something preys on my mind, it finds its way into my stories. Sort of cathartic. So, A Share In A Secret begins with all those events in my head, although of course they’re used in a fictitious way. It’s not a major theme, but it’s there, and, interestingly (to me, anyway), it was one of the things taken up by Karolina Cebula when she reviewed the book for ‘Crucify My Love’. She wrote about the damage homophobia does to young minds. (There’s a link to her review below.) Karolina is Polish (Indeed she reviews in both English and Polish) and I know, from the news that I see and read, that LGBTQ+ is in dire straights in Poland. Freedom there is being eroded. She hadn’t realised that England has its share of homophobia too. I wouldn’t say that freedom is being eroded here, but this isn’t the tolerant place it would like to think it is. Yes, we have our Equality laws, and the TV soaps have queer story lines (and occasionally, ace ones too!) and most towns have their PRIDE events, and I’ve seen blokes kiss on the platform at Kings Cross station and nobody batted an eyelid, but you don’t have to dig very deeply to know that all’s not ideal. It just takes something like a kids’ book to make what’s down there rise up to the surface. Which is why I wrote this in A Share in A Secret… (Mike’s twelve year old nephew, Connor, is caught up in homophobia arising from an RSE lesson. He gets into a fight, he gets sent home… )
Connor was sitting in an armchair. He looked at Mike, red-eyed, shifted his position and then looked at the floor. Mike had intended to sit down on the chair’s arm, next to him. The squirming and the look stopped him. He sat down on the sofa instead, and waited. He didn’t have to wait long.
“They said you’re a paedo. They said it meant you do things to kids.”
“No!” An adult would have recognised the anguish in Mike’s voice, but Connor was just a child. “Who said? They’re wrong, Conn. Come here and we’ll talk about it.”
How often, with Tom away, had he said that to his nephew over the years, and the two of them had put the world to rights, seated together on the sofa? This time, though, Connor didn’t move. Instead, he looked at Mike, uncertain.
“Okay,” said Mike gently. “You stay there. Tell me what they said, and ask me all the questions you want.”
“They said you do things up the bottom.” It sounded so dirty spoken like that. “Do yer?”
Mike sucked in a breath, and answered honestly. “Aye, I do sumtimes, but not to children.”
“So you do, then.”
“They said you take photos of kids an’ put them on the internet.”
“Never. I’d never do that and neither would Ross or Phil or Raith.”
“They said you put your willy down kids’ throats.”
“Ah, God, no! No! Who said that?! Have I ever done that to you?”
Connor shook his head but wouldn’t look at him directly.
“Conn, have I ever touched you where you didn’t want to be touched?”
Connor shook his head again. “But that’s what they do. Be nice and friendly ’til they want to do things. Adam Welland said his dad says that people like you need to have their willies cut off and his dad said in some countries people like you get thrown in jail.”
People like me! Mike wanted to shout, “There aren’t people like me. Just people!” but he didn’t.
Words were flooding out of Connor now.
“Mam says I’ve got to go in to school tomorrow but I don’t want to. I tried to fight ’em. I said you wouldn’t do them things. I never knowed about the bottoms though. I never knowed you did that. I said they were lyin’.”
Mike had no response. His turn to look away.
“I had to write it all out and say why I’d got into a fight and then they called me mam.”
“There’ll be someone else to pick on tomorrow, Conn. You’ll be yesterday’s news. It’s how schools are.”
“Yeah, but this is part of our lessons so it’ll ’appen again. It’s not nice, is it?”
Did he mean homophobia? No. “Doin’ things with bums.”
“I don’t know what to say to that, Conn.” He knew what he wanted to say: that he hadn’t chosen to be gay. That he was just someone who wanted sex at times. That if you put the two together, it was one of the actions that sometimes ensued. That if you loved the person you were with, then you cherished and treasured the intimacy that could result, but he couldn’t have explained his feelings to a lot of adults, let alone to a pre-adolescent boy. So, he sat there, unable to offer a defence.
Maisie put her head around the door.
“I need to pick Joel up,” she said.
“I’ll come too,” said Connor, jumping up.
Mike drew in a breath. He caught Maisie’s eye. They’d both understood the message: Connor no longer felt safe alone with Mike. At least for now, the boy was lost to him. Mike had left the house by the time that Maisie and her sons got back. (copywrite Jude Tresswell)
Bit long, but lack of tolerance and lack of respect – lack of humanity really – does such damage, doesn’t it? Makes me want to cry at times. Thanks for reading.
Karolina’s Crucify My Love – REVIEW https://crucify–my–love.blogspot.com/2020/05/141-eng-review-share-in-secret-jude.html
Buy link for the book, which is the fifth in the County Durham Quad series and is in ebook and p/back formats. I would hope that there’s enough background in it for new readers. https://amazon.com/dp/B087B72WG2
Refs made in post: Relationships and Sex Education, The Christian Institute, http://www.christian.org.uk ; School Gates Campaign info from BBC On-line news 30th April, 2019, article entitled ‘Protest leaflets claim relationship education teaches infants masturbation’ ; various BBC On-line news pieces, e.g. March 08, 2019 following the demonstrations outside Parkfield Community School. Also, Relationships, sex and health education: guides for parents http://www.gov.uk, updated November 05, 2019