This instrument is a modest measure. If anything, it does not go far enough, but I warmly support the Government’s proposals. The regulations ensure that every child receives inclusive and age-appropriate relationships education, including on the full diversity of family life—from the same-sex parents dropping their children off at school, to the lesbian teacher at the front of the class, through to the young people understanding and reconciling themselves to their own identity as lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans.
Under the regulations, parents retain the option to withdraw their children from sex education—in my view, at considerable risk. If I may say so, too much of this debate is focused on LGBT education. What about safeguarding children from abuse and harm, which more often than not takes place in the home? It is vital that children are taught about what is and is not acceptable by trained professionals in a safe environment. In the context of child sexual exploitation up and down the country, we lose sight of that at our peril.
I want to focus on the opposition to this modest measure, because it speaks directly to the country that we are and demands an answer as to the kind of country that we want to be. Much of the opposition that has found its way into my inbox has been motivated by religious objections. As a Christian, I understand theological debates about human sexuality. But I should also say, particularly to those who have stood at school gates with homophobic placards and leaflets, and those who have bombarded my inbox warning about LGBT lobbies, clearly not knowing their audience: you should know better. When schools are talking about the importance of having no outsiders, and celebrating diversity and difference, who do you think they are talking about? It is not just the gay child at the front of the classroom. It is the Muslim children in the classroom, the Christians who are still persecuted—in north Africa, across the middle east and sometimes in this country—and the Jewish people who are subjected to a rising tide of antisemitism. Those of us who are different know exactly what it feels like to be an outsider. How dare people, in defence of their own difference, seek to stifle the freedoms and equality of others? If someone has a problem with gay people, bisexual people or lesbian people existing, I suggest they take it up not with their Member of Parliament but with God, because we are all created in God’s image.
It has been said, quite rightly, that we need to take people with us, and I warmly welcome the advice and encouragement of the Catholic Education Service, the Church of England and the Office of the Chief Rabbi. Religious leaders understand the kind of society we are and the kind of society we want to live in. They understand that the central tenet at the heart of so many faiths—in fact, all faiths—is to love your neighbour as yourself. Ultimately we will face judgment from one, and it will not be us.
In conclusion, I want to say to LGBT children up and down the country: in the light of the kind of world we live in—the kind of direction that we see in this country and across democracies—I cannot promise you that the world will be a better place than the one we have now. But I can promise you that I and other people in this place have got your back, and we will fight for the kind of a world that genuinely values equality, freedom and human rights. To my Muslim, Christian and Jewish constituents and friends who have written to me: I’ve got your back too. Anyone who is coming for you, your religious freedom and your place in the community will have to come through me first. I just ask—for the sake of our country, the democracy we live in and the kind of society that we want to build—that you have my back too. If we build that kind of society, whatever our background and wherever we come from, we will all live in harmony together. That is the kind of society we need to build.