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Sunday, 26 April 2009

None so blind . . .

There’s some nice impartial reporting by Britain’s right-wing tabloid Mail in evidence today when it talks of a £50,000-a-year teacher who complained that a visiting speaker wanted to make a point about how ideas of sexuality are embedded in our minds.

At least that’s what I think the speaker was trying to get over when she asked the assembled teachers she was speaking to why they thought heterosexuality was the norm.

But she was not prepared for Kwabena Peat, a self-confessed Christian at Park View Academy, a large secondary comprehensive in Tottenham, which he joined three years ago.

He thought Sue Sanders – founder of the long-established gay teachers’ organisation Schools Out – was going too far, and wrote a letter to some colleagues. But they thought he was going too far in that they felt harassed and intimidated, and he was suspended.

Without seeing his letter or hearing just what was said in that seminar, it’s hard to know who’s right and who’s wrong – if, indeed, it can be expressed in such black-or-white terms.

But it seems that Sanders, who’s an out lesbian, was speaking during an In-Service Education and Training (INSET) day, during which staff were required to attend a session on child-protection issues. These issues, as you would expect, concern, inter alia, bullying.

And what sort of bullying do we get in schools? Homophobic bullying, of course (among other types of unacceptable behaviour). The £850 training session, says the Mail on Sunday, was organised by Chrysalis, a training team that specialises in diversity.

Sanders, aged 62, who founded Schools Out in 1974, asked why people thought heterosexuality was the norm. Reasonable question, one would have thought, because it would get people thinking and examining their own entrenched views. Perhaps they hadn’t thought of it before, and maybe such a question would cause them to look at themselves. It’s by carrying out exercises like this that we can get into the minds of others (bullies, perhaps?) and question why they do what they do.

After all, open-mindedness is about examining things that you might hold dear, and daring to ask whether there are aspects of them that you have hitherto not addressed. If you don’t open your mind, you don’t stand a chance of seeing into the mind of the aggressor whose behaviour you are trying to understand and, ultimately, curb. But there are, as the saying goes, none so blind as those who don’t want to see.

The Mail on Sunday says:

Mr Peat said he had expected her merely to provide information to help teachers handle homophobic bullying, but she had gone much further.

“She started promoting homosexual lifestyles and suggesting those who had objections should sort out their prejudices. She said, ‘What makes you all think that to be heterosexual is natural?’ It was at that point I walked out.”

In a statement last night, headteacher Alex Atherton said: “An allegation of intimidation and harassment is currently being investigated.”

Ms Sanders said her training sessions were designed to “raise awareness”.

And that, dear reader, is all the Mail on Sunday thinks is worth giving of Sanders’s point of view, which is why I use the world impartial ironically in my intro. Had she refused to talk to the paper? If she had, they would have said so. Indeed, they would have rejoiced in the fact: Gay-promoting lesbian refuses to talk to media, shock, horror! So we can only assume there were quotes aplenty, or opportunity aplenty to gather them, but that the paper didn’t bother to use them or get them in the first place.

And note the point at which Peat decided to leave the seminar: “She [Sanders] said, ‘What makes you all think that to be heterosexual is natural?’ It was at that point I walked out.”

Oh, dear! Perhaps he perceived that his manhood would be put into question if he actually dared to open himself up to the idea that maybe he should consider that neither homo- nor heterosexuality is the norm, but both are natural.

I’m not suggesting he’s a closet or repressed gay, only that he maybe feels that merely owning to believing that neither version of sexuality is “right” could in some way compromise his image of himself.

Then we get this: Peat, says the Mail on Sunday, was one of “several Christian staff” (my emphasis) who walked out of this session, “after an invited speaker questioned why people thought heterosexuality was natural”.

And not just a Christian in Peat’s case, but an Afro-Caribbean Christian – and they tend to belong to fundamentalist churches that hate gays. Does he belong to such a church? Dunno, but my money’s on it.

So either his manhood or his delusions were perceived to be under threat if he dared to rethink his entrenched attitudes towards homosexuality. It doesn’t matter which. It amounts to bigotry.

Peat is being supported by the Christian Legal Centre, which is a right-wing, rabidly homophobic outfit that takes up cases of homophobes who fall foul of more enlightened views.

Whether with its services or just its moral support, it can usually be found speaking up for bigots such as Gary McFarlane and Lillian Ladele, a counsellor and registrar, respectively, who found their prejudices got in the way of their doing the job they were being paid to do.

1 comment:

Stuart Hartill said...

Derek Jarman's riposte to a homophobe that 'heterosexuality isn't normal either, just more common' has always seemed a neat way to sum up the situation.
Actually the worrying thing about this is that 'teachers' ,not 'a teacher', walked out.
If they can't even explore such a basic question themselves, they're not very likely to 'inspire' their pupils to ask important questions about the world, which my local education authority always trots out as the reason small kids need to know about religion but can't count to ten or spell their own names!