In his opinion piece of August 4, Ivan Fenech reacted to the donation of a number of educational resources by MGRM to schools. Most of these resources involved storybooks that are aimed at kindergarten and primary school children but they also included library books for adolescents and a teacher training DVD.

Fenech’s claim was that such storybooks were confusing to children and an assault on traditional models of the family. However, in no way did he substantiate his views.

Creating inclusive school environments that celebrate difference and diversity among the school community does not happen automatically. Building a culture of respect for all takes planning and the commitment of all those involved in the educational process. It also requires trained staff with the necessary resources at hand.

An inclusive curriculum recognises that families come in diverse forms. Daddy, Papa and Me focuses on a family with two fathers, as does Tango Makes Three, a true story of two male penguins who adopted and raised a chick in a New York zoo.

The Family Book, on the other hand, celebrates families with a mum and dad, with same-sex parents, single parents, adoption and fostering, among others.

The message that all the books strive to impart is that families come in different forms and that the most important element in each one is love.

Celebrating difference also sends a clear message to children that they can be themselves and need not conform to what others believe is the norm for fear of being bullied. They can be a boy who likes pink or a girl who likes climbing trees.

All evidence suggests that schools that create a learning environment where children feel able to be themselves are not only happier but also have better learning outcomes.

For education to be relevant it must prepare its citizens to live in a diverse society

A barrier for schools to include such work is often the fear of negative reactions from parents. One way of allaying such fears is to keep parents informed and to explain the learning objectives teachers wish to address.

No parent wants the child to be bullied or discriminated against or for the child to bully other children. This means educating children about diversity within society whether it be on grounds of gender, gender identity, gender expression, race, religion, disability or sexual orientation, among others.

Young people who are coming out should certainly be able to access support from counsellors, parents and LGBTIQ NGOs if required. Most will not need it because they are growing up in a world which increasingly lets them know that an LGBTIQ identity is perfectly valid and normal even though not as common as heterosexuality.

Portraying the diversity already existing within society is not gay propaganda any more than acknowledging different ethnic groups, religions and cultures constitutes racial or religious propaganda. To talk of influencing “the minds of children with alternative sexual lifestyles” is ignorant if not homophobic.

The stories are about love not sex and there is ample scientific evidence to prove that sexual orientation and gender identity are not something one chooses. Nor do they go away by rendering them invisible. One is either LGBTIQ or one is not.

Maltese legislation and policy is increasingly affirmative of LGBTIQ identities. It grants the highest level of protection against discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity in its Constitution; it recognises same-sex couples and their children and grants the right to gender identity and bodily integrity.

It is a logical consequence of these measures that LGBTIQ issues also be mainstreamed in our educational institutions. Some may see such initiatives as a threat; most will acknowledge that for education to be relevant it must prepare its citizens to live in a diverse society and to respect and celebrate difference rather than fear or stigmatise it.

Gabi Calleja is MGRM coordinator.

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