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As a gay Muslim man, LGBTI education in school would’ve changed my life

As a gay Muslim man, LGBTI education in school would’ve changed my life

Shamal Waraich with his dog

There has been a lot of debate recently regarding the inclusion of LGBTI-inclusive education in schools across England.

Earlier this month, a large group of parents protested outside Parkfield Community School in Birmingham. They’re against the promotion of LGBTI equality and challenging homophobia in primary schools.

The assistant head of Parkfield School, Andrew Moffat MBE, identifies as gay. He is also nominated for an award as a UK finalist for the Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize.

Moffat wrote a book in 2015 entitled No Outsiders in Our School. This formed the basis of a new program – promoted alongside the curriculum – aimed at celebrating ‘diversity and difference’.

The topics discussed include gender, gender identity, religion, sexual orientation, disability and age. It has a focus on eliminating discrimination, promoting inclusivity and developing an understanding of British values in line with the Equality Act 2010. 

Teaching inclusivity won’t turn your kids gay

The parents protesting at Parkfield Community School were predominately from the Muslim community and later joined by Christian evangelicals.

A parent of some children at the school Mariam Ahmed, has launched a petition to have the program removed from the curriculum.

Targeting Andrew Moffat, the parents feel it is inappropriate to teach primary school children about LGBTI equality. They are concerned the school is in fact promoting homosexuality by indoctrinating or confusing their children with inclusive education.

Kids on a school bus with rainbow flags
Photo: Jon Gilbert Leavitt

As a British, South Asian, Muslim, gay man it’s disappointing to hear members of my extended community believe that I have chosen to ‘become gay’ rather than understanding that I was born gay.

It’s also a shame that parents who are second or third generation British citizens feel that teaching inclusivity would somehow turn their children gay.

No child can be taught how to be gay.

I was born with a sexual identity that was assigned to me by God (Allah), but I had so much trouble trying to figure that fact out.

I wish I had the opportunity to learn about the LGBTI community while I was growing up in the nineties.

My experiences at primary school shaped the person I am, but teachers never promoted diversity.

Child waving rainbow flags
Photo: Austin Community College / Flickr

Even as a young child, I had what I now understand as an adult to be a crush on a male teacher without understanding what it meant.

I knew it was positive but the environment around me never explained what those feelings were.

Being gay in a toxic, masculine society is often seen as being weak, effeminate or bad. This society can shame or ridicule anyone they perceive as being different.

We need positive LGBTI role models

Growing up, there were a limited number of LGBTI stars on television.

During the nineties, this largely consisted of Dale Winton, Michael Barrymore and Lily Savage. While it was great to have these stars on our screen, their sexuality was always seen as the butt of every joke and society generally frowned upon their sexual identity.

This stands in stark contrast to the amazing visibility today of LGBTI stars, characters, TV shows and movies.

I remember the days as a young child, my parents would change the TV channel as soon as we saw people kissing.

I grew up watching Bollywood movies, which in the eighties and nighties were notorious for portraying love, kissing and sex through the medium of dance.

But they would often conceal the exact moment two people kissed.

I still don’t quite know what it all meant as we never discussed this in my household.

Shamal with his nephew
Shamal and his nephew Hizqil. | Photo: supplied

My first experience of LGBTI relationships and visibility came by watching shows like Queer as Folk, which I remember recording on a VHS to watch later when no one was around.

Although I wasn’t out to anyone or even myself, I felt a huge connection to the characters.

It seemed like a utopian world that might accept me and I could be free to be gay.

Talking about sex is a huge taboo in Muslim families

I come from a community where we don’t talk about sex.

It’s a huge taboo.

Sexual intercourse is forbidden outside of marriage and same-sex sexual activity is a sinful act. I knew that sex education would always be a challenge to understand.

I remember my parents receiving a letter about proposed sex education. But I also remember the frowned looks and exchanges before they disregarded it and we never discussed again.

My primary and secondary school religious studies education consisted of six hours of learning in total. This included an animation of a ‘normal’ white male and female having sexual intercourse or ‘making love’.

I vaguely recall this cartoon was a great source of humor in the classroom. I think I went along with the jokes, because I wasn’t sure how to act.

By the time I got to secondary school, we had an afternoon session where a nurse came in and we all practised placing a condom on a banana.

I never felt free to explore my sexuality at school.

I wasn’t the most masculine of children because I had friends who were mainly girls and I loved Barbie, Trollz and My Little Pony. But admitting this would open me up to constant bullying and ridicule by my peers.

Three students holding up signs for equality
Photo: Jeffrey Smith / Flickr

I was a sensitive child and my parents always told me ‘big boys don’t cry’. My family and culture reiterated that boys are always strong, powerful and leaders of the pack.

My community and religion tells me falling for a man is disgusting and haram – I will go to hell and be tortured with hot iron rods.

‘Allah made me this way’

When I was younger, the concept of hell scared me but now as an adult, I know that this is simply not true.

Allah made me this way. He made me gay and I am happy.

Why would he then punish me for something he created? I am not going to hell and neither are your kids.

Let’s create some tolerance and love and remember that our common humanity is what brings us together as a society.

I respect my culture and religion for all the good things they have taught me. To empathize with others, be there for each other in difficult times and to love your neighbours like your family. So why are religious parents disregarding and disowning their Muslim children for being gay?

Shamal holding his dog
Shamal and his dog Maximus. | Photo: supplied

I believe the government should make RSE compulsory for all children at primary and secondary levels with a large focus on diversity, equality and inclusion.

I agree with the Ofsted Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman who recently told the BBC: ‘It’s crucial children are exposed to differences in society. It’s about making sure that children who do happen to realize that they themselves may not fit a conventional pattern know that they’re not bad or ill.’

Let’s create tolerance and unity in a world where division seems to be the focus.

See also

Two percent of US high school students identify as transgender

Westboro Baptist Church to protest high school attended by bisexual Rose Queen

30,000 sign petition against gender diversity teaching in New Zealand