Over the past year, religiously-motivated protests across the UK have sprung up against age-appropriate sex and relationships education, with picketers claiming these lessons confuse and sexualise children.
A judge recently banned the anti-LGBTQ protests outside Anderton Park Primary School in Birmingham, but it’s worth knowing what our MPs make of the opportunity to teach kids about a normal part of life – especially as they step down and seek your vote for reelection.
Back in March, 538 MPs voted for draft legislation that made it a statutory requirement for schools to teach children about LGBTQ relationships. Twenty-one voted against the measure and 35 abstained.
VICE contacted all 56 of these MPs to find out why. A whopping 24 MPs were unable to tell VICE why they abstained or voted against the measure to allow for schoolchildren to be taught about LGBT relationships.
Only 19 MPs who abstained and 13 MPs who voted no responded to our requests. Here are some of the most notable ones.
THE ONES CITING PARENTAL/RELIGIOUS RIGHTS
Bob Blackman (Conservative), Ex-MP for Harrow East
“I strongly believe that parents should have the right to educate their children as they see fit and [they] should have the right to withdraw their children from education which is incompatible with their religious beliefs.”
Philip Davies (Conservative), Ex-MP for Shipley
“I don’t agree with restricting the right of parents to remove their children from sex and relationship classes. I believe that parents are best placed to decide what is the age appropriate material for their children to learn.”
Marcus Fysh (Conservative), Ex-MP for Yeovil
“I am certainly all for teaching the importance of inclusivity, kindness and tolerance, that it is okay to feel and be different, and that we should love each other for who we are. Where I disagreed with the legislation is that the concept of 'age appropriateness' is so subjective and I think could lead to increased pressure on teachers and potentially inappropriate teaching taking place… I am concerned about teaching ‘gender fluidity’ to very young children with the potential to confuse them.”
James Gray (Conservative), Ex-MP for North Wiltshire
“Under what is proposed, parents would no longer be allowed to withdraw their children from sex education classes – for example for reasons of religious conviction – but can merely approach the headteacher to request that it happens… That seemed to me to cut across parental rights.”
Ranil Jayawardena (Conservative), Ex-MP for North East Hampshire
“Mr Jayawardena… opposed the regulations out of concern for the extent to which they remove the right of parents to choose their children’s education.”
Sir Edward Leigh (Conservative), Ex-MP for Gainsborough
“Conservatives have traditionally opposed any attempts to nationalise the family and subvert the rights of parents to guide their children’s education. Recently I had the privilege of welcoming a group of Orthodox Jews to the House of Parliament. The Jewish community have been educating their children for 5,000 years. Why should the Education Secretary get in the way?”
Dr Julian Lewis (Conservative), Ex-MP for New Forest East
“The bill turns on rights of parents to withdraw children – I'm suspicious of vague phrases being inserted into legislation.”
Martin Vickers (Conservative), Ex-MP for Cleethorpes
“I believe that in respect of religious and relationships/sex education parents should have the absolute right to remove their children.”
Fiona Onasanya (Labour), Ex-MP for Peterborough
“If schools are to determine the content of sex education at primary school, I do feel that parents must be provided with detail of how schools plan/propose to tailor these programmes.”
THE ONES WHO MADE A MISTAKE
Ruth George (Labour), Ex-MP for High Peak
“I did not abstain but inadvertently missed the deferred division due to an intensive Select Committee session… and final preparations for the Ten-Minute Rule Bill that I was due to present after PMQs.
“This was in no way deliberate – I have supported the gay community throughout my life. I share the concern of my many friends who are gay about the rise in homophobia and hate crime and give them my full support.”
Stephen Kinnock (Labour), Ex-MP for Aberavon
“Stephen is sure that he voted AYE on this (he remembers filling the form in) and the House authorities are currently looking into whether there has been an administrative error.”
Norman Lamb (Lib Dem), Ex-MP for North Norfolk
“This was a total cock-up, he missed the vote as he was in a meeting. Norman spoke in favour during the debate that took place on 21st March."
Laura Pidcock (Labour), Ex-MP for North West Durham
“Laura didn’t deliberately abstain from voting, she was on live TV and called straight to an urgent meeting, subsequently this meant that the vote was unfortunately missed. Laura has been a long term supporter of LGBT+ rights and spent years delivering LGBT+ education.”
Chuka Umunna (Lib Dems), then-Labour MP for Streatham
“I’m afraid that this was a mistake by Mr Umunna, which he has apologised for… He accidentally missed the vote.”
THE ONES WHO WEREN’T THERE
Vernon Coaker (Labour), Ex-MP for Gedling
“I was visiting my father in hospital. As you may know, I am a strong supporter of the regulations.”
Frank Field (Independent), Ex-MP for Birkenhead
“I was unable to vote […] as I was in a longstanding select committee meeting.”
Sir Bernard Jenkin (Conservative), Ex-MP for Harwich and North Essex
“Sir Bernard was forced to be absent sadly, but is entirely supportive of the proposals.”
Robert Jenrick (Conservative), Ex-MP for Newark
“I had a ministerial engagement at HM Treasury… I support the measure.”
Yasmin Qureshi (Labour), Ex-MP for Bolton South East
“Yasmin’s brother was seriously unwell in hospital, so she was unable to be there to vote for this motion.”
Chris Williamson (Independent), Ex-MP for Derby North
"Chris was not on the parliamentary estate when the vote took place.”
Andrew Rosindell (Conservative), Ex-MP for Romford
“He was just not on the estate that day.”
Mohammed Yasin (Labour), Ex-MP for Bedford
“Mohammad had a family emergency to attend to on Tuesday and wasn’t able to get back into Parliament until [that] evening.”
Steve Double (Conservative), Ex-MP for St Austell and Newquay
“Parents are better placed than the state to educate their children on matters of sex, relationships and gender orientation in a wholesome and appropriate manner.”
Stephen Timms (Labour), Ex-MP for East Ham
“I support the Regulations’ content, but, reflecting concerns in the Orthodox Jewish community, want assurance that implementation will recognise that ‘religion or belief’ is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act too.”
Ann Coffey (TIG), previously Labour MP for Stockport
“Ann had to be off the estate for an important meeting at that time.”
Kate Hoey (Labour), Ex-MP for Lambeth
“Was out of Parliament on a longstanding engagement over the lunchtime period. Can only vote during a period of time and missed the slot. Was a paper vote. It was always going to pass and indeed passed by a huge majority.”
Jared O’Mara (Independent), Ex-MP for Sheffield Hallam
“On the day of the vote he was at a gay bar in Sheffield for a documentary. He’s spent the best part of the past 10 years drinking in that gay bar, half of his office staff are gay. He is an ally and fully supports the motion.”
There we have it: apologies and missteps alongside concerns around parental rights and “gender orientation” (??) trump children’s rights to know about their own society. On the plus side, those are the MPs who responded. Of the MPs who did not answer repeated requests for comment, we had Priti Patel, a Home Secretary who presides over asylum application processes of gay people, shadow chancellor John McDonnell and Jacob Rees-Mogg, who hasn’t always been so shy.
Luckily, the bill was successful. But ahead of the election, isn’t it good to know where our elected representatives stand on issues simple enough as people simply loving another member of the same sex?