At the next general election Liberal Democrats should look forward to being able to point to the introduction of same sex marriage as a Liberal Democrat achievement. Although the move is supported by some Conservatives, it has only happened because of Lib Dem pressure.
That the Party has made the issue such a high priority, especially when working with a conservative Party, helps to communicate to the public how much we care about equality for LGBT people, and is something that we should be able to draw collective pride. However, the Government is still failing in its commitment on page 29 of ‘The Coalition: our programme for Government’ (pdf) to “… tackle bullying in schools, especially homophobic bullying.”
Only yesterday it has been revealed that the Catholic Education Service of England and Wales has written to all state funded secondary Catholic schools asking them to draw pupils’ attention to a recent letter by senior archbishops that told Catholics it was their “duty” to oppose gay marriage, and to draw their attention to an online campaign petition opposing civil marriage equality.
This comes on top of the recent revelation concerning the inaction of central Government to counter homophobic material being promoted in schools, after it was revealed that a Catholic school in Lancashire distributed a booklet suggesting “homosexual attractions” may “stem from an unhealthy relationship with his father, an inability to relate to other guys, or even sexual abuse”, and that “the homosexual act is disordered, much like contraceptive sex between heterosexuals”. I guess we should be grateful at least that it didn’t blame it on baldness.
Homophobia is known to be worse within the faith school sector, yet the actions of the Catholic Education Service show a shocking disregard for the condition of LGBT people, many of whom have a concealed miserable experience at school. If the Government wants to show that standing up for the dignity of LGBT people is something of substance, not symbolism, then it needs to pick a fight with institutionalised faith based homophobia in our schools. Otherwise any commitment to tackle homophobic bullying in schools risks becoming meaningless.
Although schools might teach about a range of religious and cultural perspectives surrounding matters of sexual diversity and gender, they should have a duty to promote an acceptance of sexual diversity and transgendered people that should trump all other considerations, and it should be embraced with enthusiasm. Instead, some state funded schools are currently being used by a religious group to actively undermine and stop the Government’s current attempt to give lesbian, gay and bisexual people equality under the law. To try and politicize and make children prejudiced in this way is a gross abuse of power and public funds.
We are two years into coalition and the Government has yet to demonstrate in policy terms what its commitment to tacking homophobia in schools entails, and if is serious about LGBT equality, then it should rebut the recent action of the Catholic Education Service of England and Wales, and if it won’t then Liberal Democrats should.
* Paul Pettinger is a (straight) Party member of 20 years, as well as a former school governor, District Councillor and Party SAO employee.
* Paul Pettinger is a Liberal Democrat member in the Cities of London and Westminster local party. He was formerly a Party SAO employee and District Councillor.