Same sex education requires compromise both ways

Keshet UK Pride picture from 2017, with a Jewish member of the march wearing a kippah, alongside another with an Israel flag. (Jewish News)
Keshet UK Pride picture from 2017, with a Jewish member of the march wearing a kippah, alongside another with an Israel flag. (Jewish News)

There are many misunderstandings when it comes to teaching children about relationships and sex education, all the way from the classroom to ministerial level. Ofsted has still not committed itself to a policy on assessing the subject from 2020.

In Yehudis Fletcher’s article in last week’s Jewish News, she references the teaching of LGBT out of context. Issues that do not exist are stated by Ms Fletcher as fact.

Stating that “the Torah says LGBT acts are forbidden” is not a misreading. However, claiming LGBT relationships are removed from homosexual acts is like holding the ice cream in front of a child but telling them they may not taste it.  

What a shame innocent, same-gender friendships and relationships that children enjoy in school are given, from an early age, a sexual frame of reference and innuendo.  

Many people of Generation Z have written how, for example, they were called “tomboy” as a child but it was left as just that. They are relieved not to be children in this day and age, having to face the possibility of being given puberty blockers.

Of course the Torah recognises that LGBT people exist – otherwise it would not mention them.  However, stating the act is an “abomination” informs us in no uncertain terms that these activities cannot be part of Orthodox Jewish practice.  Of course there is “ambiguity and grey areas” as Ms Fletcher states. That is why we have volumes of Talmud where this is discussed in immense detail by great scholars.

Schools who hold faith and traditional family values close to their heart are as worried about bullying as any adult should be.  However, rather than focusing on the eight percent of bullying that is homophobic, these schools ensure the enactment of their policy on bullying is robust across all issues.  Additionally, any child who has concerns about any aspect of their development will be dealt with appropriately and sensitively by a pastoral team. 

Furthermore, since when has what is considered “alternative” had to hold a major place in education?  According to the latest SATS results, one third of children leave school illiterate and innumerate, so our attention needs to be focused on more pressing issues.

I did not claim, as Ms Fletcher suggests,  that alternative families should be shunned.  I merely referred to the democratic right of schools and parents to decide what they wish to teach their children and when.  We will not be dictated to by a government department who now wish to mandate how to educate.  We have educated generations very successfully for thousands of years. We are not going to change how we do this now.

Unfortunately for the LGBT community, it is all or nothing:  promote us and you’re fine; refuse to teach in a manner we approve and its homophobic.

Further, regarding body autonomy and boundaries, take a look at the excellent publications and teaching schemes both here and in the USA  from an Orthodox perspective that teach awareness of predators to children. They do so in a refined and dignified way that does not vulgarise human behaviour, does not downplay the importance of privacy and gives children the ability to recognise intrusion where it exists.

I recently asked a senior very well-respected rabbinic figure how he would approach someone who feels they prefer their own gender.  His reply sums up the maxim: “Love thy neighbour as thyself. He said: “I acknowledge his feelings and, as the Torah forbids the physical acts, I have a duty to simultaneously and sensitively help him get a better understanding of the Torah.”

Respecting the viewpoint of the Jewish faith towards the LGBT+ community is all the tolerance we are requesting.  This will ensure everyone’s rights remain equal.

About the Author
Judith Nemeth is Director, Values Foundation for Faith and Families in Education
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