Supporting the use of LGBTQ picture books in primary schools…

It has been an age since my last blog looking at promotion in the media. It seems fitting to continue with the theme considering the current issues facing education regarding LGBTQ children’s books.

Last time, I shared how I had worked with a range of publications including Left Lion Magazine, Nottingham City of Literature website, Diva Magazine and BBC Radio Nottingham. Though it was hard work, the coverage was very positive. Something that was less so for a small group of schools in Birmingham and Manchester.

To give some background I need to rewind a couple of years. When I moved to my new school, the children and I helped the school gain the Beyond Bullying Award for its work in promoting pupil well-being. As a result of this, we were asked to become part of a pilot, introducing the No Outsiders Scheme into Leicestershire through our school.

As part of the pilot, I had the pleasure of meeting with Andrew Moffatt, a senior leader from a Birmingham school. This coincided with the release of my first book, “The Best Mummy Snails in the Whole Wide World.” Andrew’s scheme uses a series of 35 picture books to introduce the concept of equality by raising awareness of all of the protected characteristics of the Equality Act (2010).

Taking this back to the children in my school, two of our school councillors embarked on a fact-finding mission and joined me in a visit to Parkfield Primary in the centre of Birmingham. They successfully picked out things they wanted to implement into our own school. In return, I led a couple of lessons for their Year 3 classes with my book.

Fast forward a few months; Leicestershire were preparing to roll the programme out beyond the 9 pilot schools. During that very week, Parkfield and other primaries hit the national headlines. A small group of Muslim parents were protesting about their children being “subjected” to these books. Despite them stating they were not being homophobic, they objected to their children being taught about these issues as it was not something tolerated by their religion. The protests have raged on for a number of months now and have steadily become more intimidating.

Cue a phone call from the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme. They wanted to film a school where the series had been introduced successfully. They wanted a positive angle on the topic but found most school leaders were unwilling to speak to the media for fear of having repercussions at their own schools.

I felt it our duty to stand shoulder to shoulder in solidarity with those schools experiencing tough times. The crew arranged to film over a couple of days either side of the Easter break, working in a number of year groups and interviewing staff. The vast majority of our parents happily  allowed their children to participate in the filming sessions.

The filming took a very long time and various takes but I couldn’t have been prouder of our children. They got completely into the spirit of things and showed just how inclusive our school is. Despite the fact the film crew were coming at it from the angle of the LGBTQ inclusivity, the children were great in identifying many other differences on camera; including race, gender and the fact some of children can speak different languages.

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We were given a transmission date and told we could share links to the clip on the day of airing. The final article was given over 20 minutes of airtime with a good proportion of the footage taken in our school shown in the pre-recorded part. This led to a panel interview with a live link up with Andrew Moffatt himself, a parent protestor and Birmingham MP, Roger Godsiff.

Most frustratingly Godsiff made judgements about the books, just by taking a look at the cover and not even reading the books themselves. Surely the old adage of not judging a book by its cover should have sprung to mind? The parent protestor got his facts completely muddied stating many of the books dealt with LGBT issues, when in fact only 4 of the series touched on it and are very much age appropriate, with progression for older pupils. The crux of the issue was that parents weren’t consulted and they felt their religion was being undermined. These books look at relationships rather than the nitty-gritty of sex, making them very much appropriate. Intolerance is bread from ignorance and the only way to eradicate ignorance is through education. They are merely teaching children to be tolerant of different relationships and backgrounds across all of the protected characteristics

In May 2019, I was invited to participate in Nottingham’s LGBTQ Literary Festival at Waterstones, alongside Writing Proud and Bold Strokes Publishers. I sat on a panel with other authors of LGBT books to touch on the need for positive representation in children’s books. The question came up about the suitability of picture books for young children. The panel were in total agreement that there is a need for schools to have examples of texts representing all children from all walks of life to normalise every kind of relationship.

 

I would go so far as to say, we need to stand up against the bigoted views of a few politicians such as Roger Godsiff, Ann Widdecombe, Esther McVey and Jacob Rees-Mogg who have all recently been given airtime with their archaic views. Worryingly it isn’t just politicians being vocal, bigotry seems to purvey the odd religious leader too. Bishop Thomas Tobin has openly tweeted that Catholics should not support or attend LGBTQ Pride Month as it is “contrary to Catholic faith and morals” and is “especially harmful to children.” This is precisely why there is still a need to campaign for these books to be more widely available to challenge these intolerant, un-Christian views.

So aside from this work, I now have my second book available to buy. “The Most Contented Snail in the Whole Wide World” sees Frank and Karl, the baby snails heading off to school and meeting Cyril the Slug who desperately wants to be like his friends. The book charts the three friends’ journeying to find happiness and acceptance and is available in several independent bookshops (including Five Leaves and The Bookcase) as well as through Amazon.

 

 

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