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We should be unapologetic about our liberal values. So don’t apologise for them, Gav

Updated: Aug 22, 2019

Gavin Williamson MP's first priority should be making a bold, but brave, statement in defence of LGBT+ education - an opinion piece by Luke Robert Black.

Outside the British Embassy in Tel-Aviv, Israel, a poster gargantuan in both size and message is draped across the side of the building. Two gay men, sharing a touching moment of romance, are depicted on the Westminster Bridge, as the union flag jettisons into the reader’s eyes: “Love is GREAT (Britain)”.

The way in which we market our tolerant, liberal and modern society abroad is something to be proud of. Open for business, whoever you love, and giving you the freedom to make the commitment of a lifetime the person that you love, right here on our shores.

The UK Embassy in Israel

This isn’t an unfair depiction either, as our country consistently ranks as one of the best places to be LGBT+ in numerous surveys, reports and commissions – scoring the highest in Europe, year on year, for LGBT+ rights. Curious then, when you compare this with that has been happening in the Midlands, outside a primary school in Birmingham.

For months, sometimes unreported by the media, large groups of people – often with no direct relation to the primary school affected – have been protesting the inclusion of relationships as depicted in this poster in children’s education. Even the infamous - and odious - Katie Hopkins was there. Complaints of possibly ‘making children gay’, ‘teaching children sexual practices’, or, more curiously, introducing ‘controversial themes’ at an age that is too young, have all been used on the picket line outside primary schools in the UK.

This has materialised after long overdue reforms were finally brought in to Sex and Relationships Education (SRE), which now include teaching children about healthy, safe and consenting relationships between adults, as well as reflecting the modern Britain that our children will be growing up into. A Britain where your classmate in Chemistry might have two fathers, instead of one.

It also reflects the key domestic battles the Conservative Party has been fighting: from overhauling domestic abuse legislation to toughening sentences and improving protection for vulnerable girls and women at risk of Female Genital Mutilation or forced marriages. These are some of our party’s greatest achievements, and the inclusion of these aspects in SRE will only work to further extend their impact – arguably stopping some of these heinous practices from materialising in the first place.

These are also some of our country’s greatest values too. We believe in empowering women, and equality of opportunity for all, whatever their gender. We believe in family values – whatever those families look like – and the sanctity of marriage. We believe that love – however it presents itself – is precious and that individuals should be free to express it to whomever they wish. We also believe in law and order – for it is only with this that a happy, safe and inclusive society can function.

Why are we so shy to impose law and order in education law too? I spent a morning on the tube before writing this, scouring the internet to find a quotation from Damian Hinds that satisfied me in response to the protests outside of schools in Birmingham and Nottingham. Nothing really sufficed. Why, have we, as a party with such a proud legacy on domestic issues, LGBT reforms and VAGW, been so shy to continue this in our primary schools?

Why should we apologise for promoting the values of freedom, liberty, individualism, community, equality, hard work and respect in our schools? Why should we apologise for allowing two loving men to get married? Why should we apologise for saving vulnerable young people from being forced into a marriage against their will, or mutilated because they just so happen to be a girl?

Gavin Williamson MP, known as the 'tarantula'

Often Twitter grumblings about the “community vote” are made, or even more grossly, apologisms such as “it’s a cultural issue” are made – all that act as a proxy to merely excuse people with homophobic, sexist or discriminatory views of their own prejudices.

But, with inaction, there is a vacuum for action – an action which now falls to the hands of the Rt. Hon. Mr Gavin Williamson MP, or, more simply, Gav. The ‘tarantula’, whose appointment to the post of Education Secretary has raised a few eyebrows, now has the opportunity to do something radical and controversial: to stand up for our liberal values.

To include, in his first statement as the Secretary of State, an unequivocal defence of the education of LGBT+ families and relationships, of FGM and forced marriages, in our country’s newly reformed SRE curriculum, would send out a bold and striking message – we are proud of our liberal values and we will not apologise for them.

The Prime Minister's supporters are keen to show off his liberal tendencies, a strong stance on LGBT+ education would do just that

As an ex-teacher myself, who was asked to be ‘vague’ if asked about my boyfriend, many teachers aren’t always getting the support they need from colleagues and leaders in their workplace. Anecdotally, it was in fact in the staffroom that I experienced my own – and only (to date) – true experience of homophobic abuse in the workplace.

Sure, Gav would anger a few sexists and homophobes – some of whom hiding behind the “it’s a cultural issue” façade – but why should we care? Let’s not apologise for believing in equality, let’s not apologise for our liberal values. Come on Gav, you know what to do.

Luke Robert Black