I see you, Shakeel Afsar

I see you at the school gates, microphone in hand, chanting your pithy slogans that definitely aren’t bigoted rubbish. This is about your democratic rights, isn’t it? Your democratic right to intimidate staff and children at a school none of your kids attend, all in the name of respect and tolerance. Bit weird that you call yourself a soldier, mind. You’re shouting at toddlers and look like a newly-hatched stork that could get decked by a stiff breeze. There are more intimidating servicemen in the Salvation Army.

Excuse me a minute while I get my oven gloves before touching this scalding hot potato. The Birmingham protests have been boiling over for a while now, inflamed by outside agitators co-opting parental concerns for their own publicity, spreading misinformation and utter rubbish about just what the No Outsiders scheme set out to achieve in the first place. Teaching kids that queer people exist is a galaxy apart from video tutorials on felching. “Some people are gay and that’s fine” is literally the full extent of it and such lessons will soon be rolled out nationwide whether you kick up a fuss or not; British values of tolerance and respect are reasonably enshrined in law, and religious sentiment does not and should not trump the laws of the state. Islamic scholars on the whole are also fairly clear that the laws of the host nation are a covenant that should be upheld, provided that those laws do not force believers to commit a sin. Perhaps I’ve missed it, Shakeel Afsar, but I can’t find a single reference to the teachers at Anderton Park forcing you to kiss a man at gunpoint in any of the articles I’ve read.

It’s a tricky one and there’s no getting away from the awkward truth that LGBT rights and religious freedoms are not exactly comfortable bedfellows. There’s not one of any of the major Abrahamic religions gearing up to roll out the rainbow carpet for a screening of Rocketman any time soon. Personally I couldn’t give a toss about respecting religious freedom when it denies my existence and seeks to erase my inalienable rights; that I am here and exactly who I was born to be is not altered by any shouty twat’s belief in their personal magical sky-wizard. Having said that, however ludicrous I personally find religion in general, whatever people do and believe in their own home is none of my business. They’re welcome to whatever peace their faith brings them, provided they are in turn willing to accept the same about the lifestyles of others. There are plenty that do just that.

Then there’s aggravating little dickheads like you, Shakeel Afsar. You know full well that there are exceptions for faith schools protected by British law – that’s why your kid goes to one – and you know full well that Anderton Park isn’t one of them. Your actions expose the lie of your declared intentions. You’ve sought to create as much division as possible and even if you aren’t personally responsible, the disgusting intimidation tactics and threats to school staff are a direct result of your needless intervention. The lies and misinformation are deliberate attempts to demonise perfectly reasonable teachers espousing perfectly reasonable principles. It’s absolutely no wonder that parents are concerned when they’re being lied to about the content of these lessons.

Tolerance is a two-way street. It’s perfectly reasonable to encourage acceptance by teaching children about the existence of different faiths – why should the existence of LGBT people be treated any differently? What if the situation were reversed and we stopped teaching children about Islam, leaving them instead to grow up with nothing but ignorance and suspicion? Would the resulting generational prejudice against your community be in any way acceptable to you?

The last thing I or any reasonable person wants is to give the bigots in this country any more ammunition against the millions of reasonable Muslims living here. The unfortunate truth, Shakeel Afsar, is that you’re not being reasonable. You’ve no right to deny people’s existence, no right to inflame tensions, no right to spread lies for your own political aims and now you’ve got no right to protest anywhere near Anderton Park. You can pack up your shitty little placards and let the kids you pretend to care about go to school in peace.

It is exhausting and unfortunate that it’s come to this but there has to be a line drawn in the sand somewhere. Hopefully proper mediation will be able to cut through the lies and help these parents understand just what No Outsiders is trying to achieve. If it doesn’t, then fingers crossed someone in charge has enough spine to refuse to sell out the rights of the LGBT community in favour of the bigotry of religious zealots. The Tories might be an absolute bag of wank but even they’re not quite the DUP just yet.

As for you, Shakeel Afsar? You’ll carry on, trying to make as big a name for yourself as you can, playing the long con and preaching tolerance whilst practising the opposite. You won’t win, for the simple reason that queer people always have and always will exist and they’re a damn sight more resilient than a chickenshit little bigot seeking to write them out of history. Denial’s not just a river in Egypt, girlfriend. If you really think there’s no such thing as homosexuality in your community you really ought to try getting an Uber home from The Nightingale Club at 3am on a Friday.

I see you, Shakeel Afsar. I fucking see you.

I See You