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First libraries, now schools are under attack for teaching about LGBTQ+ identities | #childpredator | #onlinepredator | #sextrafficing


Attempts to introduce or implement relationship and sexuality education (RSE) in this country have always attracted fierce opposition from some corners of society.

In the not-so-distant past of 1998, a meeting was organised in Trim, Co Meath, to discuss the introduction of RSE in a local primary school. What was intended as an information session for parents never took place.

Protesters disrupted the event, heckled the speakers and labelled the chairperson a pervert and a paedophile, as Tom Inglis describes in his book Lessons in Irish Sexuality. Gardaí were called and the meeting never commenced.

One of those protesters, veteran campaigner Míne Bean Uí Chribín, spoke on RTÉ Radio 1 soon after, describing the inclusion of RSE on the curriculum as “worse than Hitler’s regime” and claiming teaching children to identify and name parts of the body made them “absolute fodder for the child abuser”. The not-so-distant past feels very distant sometimes.

As schools return this month, concerted attempts are again under way to characterise portions of the updated RSE curriculum as evidence of some malign agenda to corrupt or endanger our young people.

Calling members of the public service who interact with young people and RSE material “perverts”, “predators” or “groomers” is again becoming a popular sport. 

Librarians have been met with these slurs in recent months and now educators are in the firing line. What exactly is going on here?

Curriculum 

From this September, Junior Cycle secondary school students will learn about consent, issues and risks related to online pornography and about sexual and gender identity. 

This comes as part of a major update of the RSE and SPHE curriculums announced by the Government in 2018 and set out, after deliberations and consultations with the public and schools, in proposals by the National Council on Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA).

In introducing these changes, Education Minister Norma Foley said young people needed to be safeguarded and to be able to access information in a safe environment with trained professionals ‘who are doing all they can every single day to mentor, to mind and to guide’ students. File picture: Jim Coughlan

Similar updates are planned for primary school and Leaving Cert curriculums in the coming two years. The NCCA says the overhaul is aimed at bringing teaching and learning up to date with societal developments, equipping students with information and guidance for living in today’s world and creating an inclusive experience to ensure the needs of every young person are met in our schools.

In introducing these changes, Education Minister Norma Foley said young people needed to be safeguarded and to be able to access information in a safe environment with trained professionals ”who are doing all they can every single day to mentor, to mind and to guide” students.

This revamp is not without its challenges and there are parents who, based on their own moral, cultural or religious values, may object to their children being taught about some of these topics. 

Parents have a constitutional right to withdraw their children from a class if they do not agree with the content.

Yet, like parents who may have questions over the age appropriateness of books in a library, these concerns are being hijacked by a small cluster of activists who claim indoctrination, and not education, is the order of business in schools today and are motivated by the censorship of identities, diversity and learning in this country.

Libraries 

You will likely have read something, watched something or heard something of protests outside libraries throughout this year. Protesters entered libraries in Cork, Limerick, Tralee, and further afield and demanded the removal (or burning, in some cases) of LGBTQ+ books they deemed to be inappropriate and sexualising children.

That campaign has led to the repeated harassment and intimidation of library staff, the closure of libraries over threats of violence and books being removed from the shelves and ripped up by protesters in performative acts designed to be recorded and shared on social media to whip up outrage.

The tactics and rhetoric used by these groups, largely adopted and adapted from extremist movements in the US and UK, centre around misleading and inflammatory claims about LGBTQ+ people, equating the availability of LGBTQ+ material in a library to the grooming of children.

In a sign of the increased mainstreaming of such extremist approaches in Ireland, now the focus on libraries is shifting and the next targets are schools, curriculums and educators. This campaign is also rooted in inflammatory rhetoric that describes RSE, particularly sections that cover gender identity, as “indoctrination” and encourages suspicion and hostility towards LBGTQ+ identities.

Agenda 

In the same online quarters where library protests have been planned and promoted, there are now calls for action against schools and educators. The tone of discussion is concerning and comments routinely feature conspiracy theories and wild accusations against schools, individual educators and members of the NCCA or Government.

From this September, Junior Cycle secondary school students will learn about consent, issues and risks related to online pornography and about sexual and gender identity.
From this September, Junior Cycle secondary school students will learn about consent, issues and risks related to online pornography and about sexual and gender identity.

Here’s a flavour of the discourse: “This [RSE] is a horrendous agenda and attempted indoctrination”, “this is evil degeneracy” and “this Marxist ideology is out to destroy the nuclear family and endorse paedophilia”.

Claims of a sinister agenda being enacted behind the scenes speak to the embrace of a conspiratorial worldview that many have embraced in recent years, particularly since the pandemic, as documented in our research at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a non-profit that researches disinformation, hate and extremism online.

Calls for teachers who educate young people about RSE to be prosecuted litter these discussions, as do more explicit threats like one comment calling for “lists of names of those sick fucks” to be compiled. There can be a place for further debate about the RSE curriculum but that is not what is going on here.

There is questionable value to be gained from engaging with people who wish to make lists of teachers or brand someone a “predator”. I know of one school principal who has been publicly described as such in targeted posts on Facebook over the introduction of this curriculum in their school.

Support 

You may write this off as something that just happens online. But figures supportive of these harmful perspectives are already promoting meetings across the country. 

People, of course, have every right to attend events of their choosing, but when marketed as a meeting concerning the “agenda” of “indoctrination” in our schools, the discussion is unlikely to pass the test for balance or objectivity.

Libraries have come under attack for creating safe and inclusive environments for people to learn about their identities and celebrate their communities. 

Now schools face a similar threat by daring to teach young people, in a balanced and objective way, about gender identities, consent and a host of other RSE topics traditionally ignored in this country.

Young people are eager to learn. RSE was a topic of discussion on RTÉ Radio 1 again recently when psychotherapist and author Richie Sadlier appeared on the airwaves to talk about his new documentary Let’s Talk About Sex. One of Sadlier’s main takeaways in speaking to young people about RSE was how comfortable and articulate they are “when you remove all the awkwardness and baggage us adults bring into the conversation”.

Educators and schools are at the forefront of facilitating that conversation and they must be defended and supported, lest we return to the dark days when we were taught that relationships and sexuality were something to be ashamed of.

  • Ciaran O’Connor works on research and investigations for the Institute of Strategic Dialogue, specialising in technology and extremism



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