THE street I grew up on was a funny old place. Two long rows of brick built council houses faced each other all hemmed in with neat privet hedges.
There was a story to tell in each household. Two ladies lived with each other at the far end and an older man who kept pigeons lived with his mother a few doors away. Everyone got on with their lives and gossiped about everyone else.
My dad told me to stay away from the pigeon man a few doors down, but never explained why other than he was ‘dangerous’. As a small boy this terrified me. It was only years later that I realised his only ‘danger’ was that he was gay.
It is sad to think that falling in love with a member of the same sex was a crime up until 1967. Even when it was legalised, men had to be over 21 and relationships conducted in private. Gay men were still being convicted for breaches in the law after that.
In the 1970s, gay people were often portrayed on television as being weak or weird. There were no gay role models and most gay men were firmly in the closet.
My mother tried to explain to me that the women down the street were lesbians. She whispered the word in a Les Dawson-type way and, for years, I thought they were from the Lebanon.
In school, there was no education on gay relationships. The Tories banned any mention of gay rights with Section 28 of the Education Act.
Thankfully, how things have changed.
I was recently invited to a school near Doncaster. It was amazing to see how the Year 5 class was handling the subject of family. Teaching centred around the fact that as humans we are all different.
A rainbow banner was on the wall with photographs of different types of families and different races of people. It was simple, age-appropriate and yet effective and gave the message that we are all equal regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation and that families were not just a Mum and Dad.
It was very sad to be told that not all the parents agreed with the teaching of gay issues to primary school pupils.
The problem seems to arise when being LGBT runs in contradiction to the views of a religious group and the parents believe it is contrary to what their faith teaches.
As a Christian myself, I can understand their concerns, but we are all living in a very tolerant society that has specific equality laws in place to protect LGBT people from persecution. These are the same laws that protect the Christian, Muslim or Jew and allow us all to worship freely.
In 2020, the teaching of same-sex relationships will be on the curriculum in primary schools.
Having read what is on offer, I know it will be taught sensitively and professionally. It is something that the faith communities in this country have to accept as being part of the British way of life.
Already, protests have taken place outside schools with parents demanding that their children should not hear about being gay or transgender.
The No Outsiders scheme in Birmingham attracted a lot of anger from parents who thought that children were too young to be taught about LGBT issues.
Tolerance and the acceptance of difference is one of the foundation stones of this country and no religious group should be allowed to undermine that. The sooner children know about different types of family, the better.
I only wish that as a child I had been taught such things.
Prejudices have to be challenged – and homophobia has to be stopped – and there is no better place to do this than the safety of the classroom. Any educational platform that teaches tolerance and acceptance of diversity is a very good thing. Some parents may not like it, but it is part of our society. In the same way we challenge racist behaviour, so too should we challenge homophobia in whatever form it comes in.
We are in a dangerous place when we allow religious beliefs to compromise the law of the state. There are over 70 countries in the world where being gay is illegal and in many of those it is punishable by death.
LGBT people have fought long and hard to gain equality and freedom from criminality. There is a long way to go until they are fully accepted. In some quarters there is still a stigma attached to being gay, and homophobic hate crimes have risen over the last few years.
Parents have to understand that school isn’t just about being taught English and maths.
Education in this country is also about preparing the child for the society in which they live and like it or not, that society is inhabited by a rainbow of different people.
GP Taylor is an author and former vicar. He lives in Whitby.