Protests against primary school’s LGBT lessons to continue, vow organisers

Protesters demonstrating against the teaching of LGBT equality lessons at a primary school have vowed to continue action despite calls for a halt from a chief constable.

Calling for dialogue, Dave Thompson of West Midlands Police said he had watched with “increasing concern” as a group of protesting parents have gathered outside the gates of Anderton Park Primary School in Birmingham.

He added: “Frankly, a primary school is no place for the continuance of a large scale protest, however lawful.”

Despite the comments, the main organiser of the protests has said demonstrations will go ahead this week unless lessons are halted for further talks with the school.

Mr Thompson added that on Sunday night there had been a “number of criminal offences” which had taken place near the school in Dennis Road, Moseley.

The force received reports of assaults and criminal damage at about 9.30pm, on Sunday.

It came after counter-demonstrators were reportedly egged, after hanging up signs and placards on the school’s gate, some of which read “love is the answer”.

The force is also investigating malicious communications after headteacher Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson alleged she had been sent threatening messages, as seven weeks of protests have dragged on.

School protest
School protest

The city council has also said it is looking into whether it can use a public space protection order to move demonstrations away from the school.

Councillor Ian Ward, the leader of the local authority, said: “It’s one thing for parents to ask questions about elements of a school curriculum.

“It’s quite another for others to pounce on the situation as an excuse to peddle hatred and misinformation.”

On Monday, the protesters claimed 600 pupils were withdrawn from lessons by the parents, after counting the numbers of students going onto the premises.

The main organiser of the protests is Shakeel Afsar.

His children do not attend the school, but his niece and nephew do.

School protest
School protest

He has said that without further “mediation” between parents, the school and the council, the latest pre-planned rally would be going ahead on Friday, despite the chief constable’s comments.

Mr Afsar has claimed demonstrations have continued because the school is using “children as pawns” by teaching LGBT equality in lessons which are “over-emphasising a gay ethos”.

He added: “The parents in school feel, first and foremost, the children are too young, and second that it is counter to their moral and ethical values.”

He has rejected allegations the protests are homophobic, claiming the school should respect the protesters’ “moral beliefs”.

In an exchange outside the school on Monday, Labour MP Jess Phillips told Mr Afsar demonstrators could not “pick and choose” which equality they apply.

Progress annual conference
Progress annual conference

The city council sent a community protection warning to Mr Afsar on May 2, directing him not to interfere or attempt to interfere with the school’s operation.

Mr Afsar has questioned the warning’s legal basis, and, in any case, added he would would “breach” the terms of such a warning.

He said: “I am ready to go Magistrates’ Court. I’m ready with with my lawyers, because I am in this for the long haul.”

Mr Afsar condemned any threats made against headteacher or staff, and said: “I would never support any threats against any person.

“It’s not how we run a democratic society.”

Birmingham knife attacks
Birmingham knife attacks

Mr Thompson said: “As a citizen of this city, I have observed these protests and the rhetoric around them with increasing concern.

“West Midlands Police values and celebrates the diversity of this area.

“We believe the strength of this city is in tolerant and diverse communities.

“Sadly, this is not the image of Birmingham that these events are projecting around the country and the world.”

In a comment directed to “all those involved in the dispute”, he added: “Views are entrenching with a determination to win this argument.

“This is creating an environment where those who seek division will have cause to celebrate and to exploit.

“Frankly, a primary school is no place for the continuance of a large scale protest, however lawful.”

He added: “In this holy period of Ramadan, and as we celebrate Birmingham Pride in our city, I urge those involved and those who can influence these events to think again and consider how they can come together to discuss these strongly held views and bring this protest to an end.

“West Midlands Police cannot solve this problem but we will support all involved in seeking a dialogue and a solution.

“Equally, we will act where people see to exploit these matters and break the law.”