New storm brews over gay books

Madeleine Brettingham

Christian groups fear Equality Act could leave schools open to litigation if they refuse to use homosexual texts

The Government is under pressure from Christian organisations over equality legislation which they claim could change the way gay rights are taught in schools.

The family values group The Christian Institute are up in arms over the Equality Act, which they believe could open the way for litigation if schools refuse to teach "pro-gay" books.

The criticisms have been countered by gay rights activists and the Government, which says claims that set texts will be "forced" on teachers are totally misleading.

The row centres on the Government's refusal to omit the curriculum from sexual orientation legislation, which the Christian Institute says will allow individuals to sue schools that do not provide gay books.

"We are not talking about recommendations, the effect would be compulsion,"

said Colin Hart, Christian Institute director. "You would be able to litigate on the curriculum."

They point to cases in Canada and America, where schools have been threatened with legal action for refusing to stock books with gay characters. But a spokeswoman from the Department for Communities and Local Government said their claims were "absolute rubbish". "These regulations won't change the situation. Schools decide what they teach. There is no link between these laws and the curriculum."

A spokesman for the Department for Education and Skills said: "We trust teachers' professional judgement to decide which resources can support teaching in the classroom. It is inaccurate to suggest the regulations will require schools to promote gay rights or homosexuality in schools. Existing guidance makes clear that teaching should meet the needs of all young people whatever their family circumstances or developing sexuality, and that the topics relating to sex are taught in a way that is age-appropriate."

In last month's TES, educationists lamented the paucity of gay role models in children's literature, and defended the bogey book of the 1980s, Jenny Lives with Eric and Martin, which depicted a small girl living with her two dads. The book became a cause celebre, lambasted in the press during the witchhunts of "loony" Labour councils.

Modern books available to schools include The Sissy Duckling and Hello Sailor, the tale of a love-sick lighthouse keeper who sails off into the sunset with his sailor friend.

Peter Tatchell of gay rights group Outrage said: "Ignorance and prejudice are the seeds of homophobia. They need to be challenged in the classroom.

Fundamentalist religious views can never be an excuse for discrimination.

Most of us want to live in a caring, compassionate society."

The Equality Act, which was voted through earlier this year, has led to a series of clashes between ministers and religious groups. The legislation requires that goods and services must be available to everybody, regardless of their sexuality.

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