MP Shabana Mahmood has condemned “homophobic banners, chanting and hostile protests” by parents opposed to the way sex and relationship education is taught at a Birmingham school.
The MP also called for “dispute resolution, negotiation, compromise and reconciliation” and said people with “sincere questions or concerns” should be treated with respect.
Some parents of pupils at Parkfield Community School, a primary school in Saltley, have objected to a course called No Outsiders, which teaches pupils that same-sex relationships are a normal part of society.
There was an outcry when footage of a protest outside the school showed a man with a megaphone leading parents and young pupils in chants of “shame!”.
However, MPs including Ms Mahmood and Liam Byrne (Lab Hodge Hill) say that many parents have concerns even though they support the idea of teaching pupils about LGBT rights.
Parents have objected to the lack of consultation and question whether the material being taught is age appropriate, the MPs say.
Parkfield is in the Hodge Hill constituency but Ms Mahmood, MP for Ladywood, says some parents in her constituency have similar concerns.
She was criticised after she told the House of Commons in February that parents were worried about “the age appropriateness of conversations with young children in the context of religious backgrounds” and said: “I do not blame parents for saying that they want to opt their kids out”.
But Ms Mahmood insisted the criticism was unfair. She told MPs: “I have felt that my intentions, which were to get a fair hearing for everyone and give voice to people who have felt excluded from a process, have been both lost and misunderstood.
“Let me be clear: I think RSE [relationship and sex education] should be taught in schools; that the curriculum should be inclusive of all, and that includes the LGBT community; and that all of it should be taught at the right age and in the right way.
“I continue to call out in the strongest terms the homophobic banners, chanting and hostile protests at Parkfield School in Birmingham, because they are wrong and feed the very prejudices that I want to help to eradicate.
“I am happy to discuss, debate and listen to all communities, but I have been a little taken aback by some of the comments made about my position, some of which have been quite simply untrue.”
She went on: “It is a matter of profound regret to me that the clash between rights and the role of the state, and the issue of whether all our protected characteristics are protected equally, have found themselves played out in our classrooms.
“The question of what happens when there is a clash remains. If others, like me, happen to think it is not possible to Twitter-storm out of existence everyone with a view different from their own, a different approach is required – one that is focused on dispute resolution, negotiation, compromise and reconciliation.
“It is terrible to see communities pitted against one another. We cannot allow hard-won advances for the LGBT community to be quietly rolled back, but nor can we allow faith to be re-badged as bigotry or shout down those with sincere questions or concerns.
“Hard conversations cannot be avoided forever.”
She said some parents in her constituency were concerned “about a lack of proper engagement ahead of changes to RSE at the schools their kids attend and the delivery of education under the purview of the Equality Act.
“They were measured and respectful, but also genuinely angry and frustrated. Why? Because there had been a breakdown of trust between the school leadership and the parent body.”
Ms Mahmood suggested poor consultation may be connected to racism, saying: “In my part of Birmingham there are many examples of bad consultation. I have been heartbroken to see the contempt with which some parents in my constituency have been treated.
“Some deeply troubling and discriminatory assumptions – that because these people look a certain way, they will think a certain way – lie at the heart of that treatment.”
In the same debate, Birmingham MP Jess Phillips (Lab Yadley) said teachers should be trusted and parents should not be able to take their children out of sex and relationship lessons.
She said: “There is an epidemic in our country of violence against women, children and LGBT people and a rising tide of racial hatred.
“Our children are already talking about it.
“For those who seek opt-outs and exceptions, and worry that people will not be able to be taken out, it is my experience that children who are taken out of these subjects or whose families might not want to talk about these things, may very well have a desperate need for someone to talk to them at school, and to feel that they have somewhere to go when they feel they are in a safe place with their teachers.
“We should trust our teachers. “