Labour MP Jess Phillips in angry confrontation with anti-LGBT+ education protester outside Birmingham school
MP tells leader of campaign against Anderton Park Primary that protesters are damaging reputation of Birmingham’s ‘peaceful and loving’ Muslim community.
The Birmingham Yardley MP confronted Shakeel Afsar, who is fronting the campaign against Anderton Park Primary’s decision to teach pupils about same-sex relationships.
In a heated row outside the school, which was filmed by BBC News, Ms Phillips accused Mr Afsar and the other protesters of damaging the reputation of Birmingham’s “peaceful and loving” Muslim community.
She said she would be asking for an exclusion zone to allow pupils to attend lessons without being disturbed by the protests taking place outside.
The row is the latest in a long-running dispute between the school and parents over its policy on same-sex relationships education.
Asked why she had “not supported” the parents’ protests, Ms Phillips told Mr Afsar: “I don’t agree with the protests. I don’t agree that you get to pick and choose which equality you can and can’t have.
“Our equality laws protect us all. I want to protect you, I want to protect the Muslim community ... The worst thing about it is it is damaging the reputation of a peaceful and loving community that I have lived in my entire life.”
She added: “I am going to call for an exclusion area to protect the 700 children in this school.”
Mr Afsar, who does not have children at the school, accused the MP of being “so intolerant to us parents” and claimed that 600 of Anderton Park’s 700 pupils “had not turned up to school today” after being kept away from lessons by angry parents.
But Ms Phillips said: “That’s simply not true ... I’ve just been inside the school and that is completely untrue.”
Protests have been taking place outside the school for weeks but the row escalated on Sunday night when local residents clashed with activists who had turned up to display rainbow flags and banners supporting the school’s policy. Police were called to the scene and were stationed outside the school on Monday. Activists claimed they had been threatened and had eggs thrown at them.
One of the LGBT+ rights campaigners, who gave their name as Tracy, told Birmingham Live: “It was awful. I was shaking. We had no intention of disturbing anyone – we were putting up the banners and messages we had made to show solidarity with staff. We wanted them to see something positive when they turned up for work, and to see they had our backing.”
One protester who is opposing the school’s policy was recorded claiming the lessons it was teaching children were “so against the will of God” and “not acceptable in Islam”. He added: “God created man and then he created woman for man’s pleasure and for his companionship.”
In response, the school’s headteacher, Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson, wrote on Twitter: “Not this woman, or any of the women in my school, or any of the girls at Anderton Park. This is why we have laws on equality. What shameful words and behaviour that have been invited onto the pavements of my lovely primary school.”
The leader of Birmingham City Council, Ian Ward, said he would be seeking to use legal powers to stop the protests.
He said: “This has to stop. I’ve asked council officers to see if we could use a Public Spaces Protection Order to counter these demonstrations.
“The people of this city – of all faiths and none – are better than this.
“There is no place in this city for intolerance and discrimination.
“The children at Anderton Park have a right to attend school without the daily disruption, and the protesters, many of whom don’t even have children at the school, should back off.”
Asked about the row, education secretary Damian Hinds also said it was wrong for pupils and children to be forced “to walk past protests to come to school”.
He told Sky News: “I want schools and parents to be talking about these things.
“We have come a long way actually and from next year and the year after, we are going to have relationships education as a mandatory subject in primary schools.
He added: “We live in a society where we have a legal framework that rightly protects different people through society and recognises, celebrates the fact that people are different.
“Of course it’s also true that religion itself is a protected characteristic under the equalities legislation but it is important that in school, children are growing up knowing about modern Britain, knowing about the country in which they are going to become adults.
“There is really good dialogue going on in Birmingham and elsewhere and I want that to continue.”