Homosexual Penguins in the Curriculum Gay Fairy Tales for British Pupils
Once upon a time a prince was looking for a suitable queen to be. He was introduced to one princess, two princesses and fell in love with another prince. They married each other in a dream wedding and lived together happily ever after. Sounds like an underground gay comic? It isn't -- the text in question is a schoolbook.
School children in Britain learn about sexual diversity and alternative family structures from an early age. A state-supported pilot scheme run at 14 elementary schools -- attended by children from the age of four to 11 -- is stirring up trouble with its sexually liberal message.
Conservative parents and religious groups fear that stories like the one of the two princes in love could morally corrupt the children and promote homosexuality.
"I don't mind what adults do in mutual consent", says Andy Hebberd, founder of the Parent Organisation group, "But I'm not sure if this should be imposed on children."
But, say the people behind the "No Outsiders" project, the books are about as morally corrupting as Cinderella -- love, not sex is at the heart of the matter. While children don't have a problem with this, their parents do, says Mark Jennett who is responsible for training the teachers. "The problem comes not from the kids but from the nervousness of the adults."
Apart from "King & King", there will be other books addressing same-sex parenthood. "And Tango Makes Three" features a baby penguin with two fathers while "Spacegirl Pukes" is a picture book about two mothers who send their daughter on a space trip. The texts are listed on the recommended reading list for the schoolchildren.
"The most important thing these books do is reflect the reality for young children", project director Elizabeth Atkinson told The Observer on Sunday. "My background is in children's literature and I know how powerful it is in shaping social values and emotional development."
She added that conventional children books which don't include homosexual relationships "silence a social message" which could lead to children being bullied later on in school if they are gay or perceived as such.
If successful, the scheme will be extended nationwide. It is supported with £600,000 in funding from the state-run Economic and Social Research Council and is backed by the National Union of Teachers and General Teaching Council.
However, while Jennett hails No Outsiders as "cutting edge", Simon Calvert from the Christian Institute believes that the majority of parents would be "aghast" about the gay characters. By actively promoting homosexuality in schools, No Outsiders was tapping into a former dispute in state legislation, he told The Observer.
The paragraph in question is Section 28, an amendment to the Local Government Act of 1988 that prohibited schools and local authorities from "promoting homosexuality" or its acceptability as "pretended family relationship". The paragraph was published in response to a school publication called "Jenny Lives With Eric and Martin" which sparked an angry debate when it came out twenty years ago.
But times have changed and the liberal Blair government has been much more tolerant towards homosexuality than its predecessors. Section 28 was repealed in 2003 and homosexual marriage was legalized in 2005. No Outsiders is the first large-scale attempt to put sexually tolerant books back on the reading list for children -- but maybe it's their parents who need some extra coaching when it comes to tolerance.