We rejoiced earlier this year when one of the most forward-thinking and progressive education reforms in the world passed into law. From September 2020, all primary and secondary schools will be required to teach LGBT+ inclusive relationships education and all secondary schools will be required to teach LGBT+ inclusive sex education. This is known as relationship and sex education (RSE).
Ensuring that all children know that they are valued, represented and equal – regardless of their sexual or gender identity – is something that we all need to fight unceasingly to protect. Our title in the Labour Party as ‘the party of equality’ is an inspiring and vital beacon of values. It cannot be taken for granted. It must be earned time and time again.
As Jewish members of the Labour Party, we’ve felt proud to be a part of the party when it has driven forward equality and protection of minorities. These values fit comfortably with our Jewish values. Achievements such as the Equal Pay Act, the Gender Recognition Act and the Equality Act require an unwavering commitment to all minorities. There should be no contradiction between our Jewish belief that all are created equal and the beliefs and intentions of the Labour Party.
However, the recent plan to abolish Ofsted could clash with both our Jewish and Labour values. Abolishing the Department for Education’s inspection body could prevent the full implementation of the new guidelines for schools. We disagree with those leaders within the Charedi (ultra-orthodox) community who have endorsed this proposal. It is no coincidence that many of those same leaders have been campaigning for years against Ofsted’s power to enforce the teaching of LGBT+ issues.
The opposition to LGBT+ positive education in Charedi schools means that there are some Charedi children going to school today who feel as though they are not welcome, and that part of their identity has been erased. The Labour Party has a responsibility to all children, especially those who grow up in communities who aggressively reject the existence of LGBT+ individuals.
A central theme of Jewish belief is the phrase Kol Yisrael arevim zeh bazeh: all Jewish people are each other’s guarantors. The Hebrew Bible, the Torah, commands us not merely to be responsible for each other, but to be each other’s guarantors of action and of values. We have a duty to hold each other to account.
Now is one of those times. According to Stonewall, 45% of LGB and 64% of trans pupils are still being bullied at school. This translates into serious mental health problems, as evinced by the fact that 60% of LGB young people have self-harmed and 40% of trans young people have attempted to take their own life.
This is a matter of life and death and we need to do everything we can to protect young LGBT+ people. By tackling misinformation from a young age, we can prevent bigoted attitudes from taking root. We need to be able to call out the actions of religious and political leaders of any faith or none when their impacts are so destructive to our young people.
Labour must stand firm and guarantee that any replacement for Ofsted has the same, if not stronger, powers to ensure that schools comply with the new RSE legislation. Our values of solidarity, tolerance and respect must come first. Let us bury once and for all the idea that living a full life as an LGBT+ person is incompatible with living a full religious life.