'Reconsider religious school funding' call after gay author's visit is cancelled

The John Fisher School
The John Fisher School

Simon James Green, author of Noah Can't Even, had his visit to The John Fisher School cancelled

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The Government should reconsider the funding of faith schools if they stigmatise LGBT relationships, secular campaigners have said.

The news comes following the cancellation of a planned visit by Simon James Green, a gay young adult author, to The John Fisher School, a Catholic boys’ secondary school, in Croydon.

As reported in The i, Mr Green was due to visit the school on Monday for World Book Day to discuss his novel, Noah Can’t Even, which features a gay character.

Southwark Archdiocese, which oversees the school, said in a statement from education director Simon Hughes that “from time to time materials and events emerge for consideration that fall outside the scope of what is permissible in a Catholic school”.

“In such circumstances, we have no alternative but to affirm our unequivocal and well-known theological and moral precepts and to act in accordance with them,” the statement added.

“The book-signing event scheduled for 7 March 2022 at The John Fisher School, Purley is one such event and we have recommended that the school’s leaders cancel it.”

The diocese also intervened to remove several governors in support of the school’s leadership team who wanted the visit to go ahead.

National Secular Society chief executive Stephen Evans commented: “If a visit from one of the UK’s leading writers of LGBTQ+ teen fiction is considered ‘outside the scope of what is permissible in a Catholic school’, the state should reconsider publicly funding such schools.”

“The disturbing behaviour of this diocese highlights a broader problem of faith schools stigmatising same-sex relationships and therefore contributing to a climate where many young LGBT people are growing up feeling ashamed or frightened about who they are,” he added.

“Our own research has shown that a significant number of faith schools promote the idea that same-sex attraction is ‘morally wrong’, ‘disordered’ or a ‘lifestyle choice’. This isn’t acceptable in a publicly funded school. Regardless of their sexuality or the sexuality of their parents, children of every religion and belief background should be entitled to study in a welcoming and accepting school.”

The diocese’s intervention followed a campaign by website Catholic Truth, which described how “young boys” were being “misled into accepting, as normal and good, sexual behaviour which is condemned by Christ’s Church”.

Writing on social media, Green said: “I want the LGBT students there, for whom this sends the most terrible message, to see how much love and support there is for them all. That they’re fine, they’re not sinful, problematic or in any way wrong.”

He said that the event would have involved discussion of being an awkward teenager, “the power of comedy, my career and about an eight-minute section of the importance of LGBT rep [representation]”, adding that the school had really wanted the visit to go ahead but the diocese “had other ideas”.

A separate visit by the author to St John’s Primary School in Gravesend, which is also controlled by the Southwark Archdiocese, was cancelled. The talk was going to focus on his novels for younger children which do not include LGBT characters.

Pauline Buchanan, regional secretary of the London section of the NEU teaching union, representing staff members within the school: “The postponing of a visit to John Fisher School by author Simon James Green to celebrate World Book Day, and the subsequent decision to remove members of the school’s governing body, is a matter of grave concern.

“It sets a terrible precedent for LGBT+ rights and representation at the school. The NEU will be writing to the Southwark Archdiocese calling for the reinstatement of both the governing body members and for the visit by Simon James Green to be allowed to go ahead.”

Humanists UK education campaigns manager Robert Cann said the Archdiocese had displayed “outrageous behaviour” in “discriminating against a well-regarded children’s author, whose work has been celebrated far and wide, simply because his work promotes LGBT acceptance”.

“The result is that children, including LGBT children, are missing out on learning that LGBT people should be celebrated, and their relationships should be respected just like those of straight people.”

“Dioceses should not have the power to block lessons that promote inclusion under the Equality Act, and they should not be able to sack governors who support such lessons. We will be calling on the authorities to intervene to prevent this from ever happening again.”

A statement from the John Fisher School reads: “Catholic schools welcome pupils from all backgrounds. This isolated incident has given a false impression of the inclusive nature of Catholic schools.

“Catholic schools are places where all children can flourish and as such have a zero-tolerance approach to LGBT+ discrimination. Nationally the CES has worked closely with schools, dioceses, and charities to produce Catholic inclusivity guidance and resources for schools that have won acclaim from LGBT+ organisations.

We would encourage Catholic schools to work closely with their diocese to ensure that all Catholic schools can be welcoming and inclusive centres of learning where everyone is respected as a human being made in the image and likeness of God.”