Tolerance is a quality that should be in a different class, says Saskia Murphy

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Tolerance isn’t something that just benefits the people you are tolerating. Once you’ve accepted that people think, eat, dress and act in a different way to you, life is just better. Tolerance is a gift you give to yourself. Through tolerance you start to open yourself up to a variety of friendships, different countries to travel to, new recipes to cook. Tolerance is the key to a happy life.

It’s one of the things we do well on the whole. In a nation of immigrants, you’re not doing yourself any favours if you don’t accept people for being different. You’re just causing yourself unnecessary distress. Acceptance is something worth fighting for, and it has to benefit everyone.

That’s why last week’s news that Parkfield community primary school in Birmingham has decided to pull its programme on LGBT teaching after a protest by parents is a huge disappointment.

The No Outsiders programme was developed by assistant headteacher Andrew Moffat in 2014 with the aim of teaching children to accept differences in society. As well as LGBT issues it teaches about race, religion, gender, age and disabilities.

Moffat had previously been forced to defend the programme after 400 predominantly Muslim parents signed a petition calling for the lessons to be dropped from the curriculum.

At the beginning of this month around 600 Muslim children, aged between four and 11, were withdrawn from the school for the day in protest. At one demonstration parents held signs that read “say no to promoting of homosexuality and LGBT ways of life to our children”, “stop exploiting children’s innocence”, and “education not indoctrination”.

The argument of some of the parents is that they feel their children are too young to learn about complex themes such as sexuality and rights. But there should be no age restriction on children learning to tolerate others, and no religion should stand in the way of that.

The programme has now been dropped from the curriculum, but the school has insisted that it will continue to teach equality assemblies, and its No Outsiders ethos will still be available for all. But it is a shame to see such a positive initiative forced out.

People are entitled to their religious beliefs, and they are entitled to teach them to their children. But it is wrong to expect a state-funded school to take away a vital programme on the basis of those beliefs.

At my Catholic primary school I was taught about how Jesus was tortured and nailed to a cross before being buried in a tomb and rising from the dead three days later. Learning about same sex relationships would have done my young mind a lot less harm. Children will be LGBT irrespective of their religion. They should grow up knowing who they are and that there is a place for them in the world.

LGBT people exist, and after centuries of persecution and the fight for equal rights they deserve to be celebrated. Their relationships deserve validation and respect. We can never go back to a society where people are forced into hiding because of their sexuality. Too much has been lost already.

Children of same sex couples should see their parents reflected in the school curriculum, just as children from all religious backgrounds should see themselves and their families celebrated and their faiths acknowledged. Tolerance has to work all ways.

Saskia Murphy is a Manchester-based freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter @SaskiaMurphy

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