Editors' Note: Guest blogger Milly Shaw is a freelance writer and Editor of 'the web's tastiest lesbian magazine' Lesbilicious.co.uk. When she's not writing about queer issues she's up to her elbows in feminism, which is why she's also a contributor to theFword.org.uk, the home of contemporary UK feminism.
"Gay sex lessons for 5-year-olds" "Schools turning into gay saunas" "children to be forced to celebrate homosexuality". It was the perfect story for the right-wing, homophobic tabloid newspapers in the UK, with all the right ingredients for a scandal: homosexuality, innocent children, sex, wasted taxpayer money, cold-hearted boffin academics and a prime example of 'political correctness gone mad'. After all, why bother with the boring truth when there's a chance to whip up a homophobic media frenzy?
The real story, of course, is not nearly so shocking as the headlines make out. The source of the supposed scandal was a low-key seminar for academic researchers at Exeter University. The seminar discussed 'pleasure and desire in educational contexts' and the issue of 'creating primary classrooms where queer sexualities are affirmed and celebrated.'
What really sparked the tabloids' rage, however, was this statement, taken from the seminar papers: 'The team is concerned to interrogate the desexualisation of children's bodies, the negation of pleasure and desire in educational contexts, and the tendency to shy away from discussion of (sexual) bodily activity in No Outsiders project work.'
No Outsiders is a Government-funded organisation set up to stop homophobic bullying and prejudice in primary schools, which usually cater for children aged 7-11. And, needless to say, it has no plans to teach children the pleasures of gay sex, as the tabloids insisted.
Speaking to online lesbian magazine Lesbilicious, Dr Elizabeth Atkinson of No Outsiders said: "The academic analysis which was the focus of the Exeter seminar is quite separate from the classroom practice of the primary teachers in the No Outsiders project.
"This project has nothing whatsoever to do with sex education - it is about preventing and challenging homophobic bullying. It is about recognition, respect and human rights, and the resources we are using have no more to do with sex than Cinderella does."
Naturally that hasn't stopped the Christian right and other opponents of LGBT rights from jumping gleefully on the story.
"The proposal is that primary school classrooms should be turned into gay saunas," said Patricia Morgan, author of anti-same-sex parenting book 'Children as Trophies' to newspaper the Daily Mail. "This is about homosexual practice in junior schools. The idiots who repealed Section 28 should consider that this is where it has got them."
Simon Calvert of the Christian Institute added: "When an adult who is working in a primary school suggests that children should explore their sexuality, that should result in a complaint to the police."
And there we have the key to why the public outrage should be with the right-wing media, not in the story itself.
The Daily Mail newspaper managed to quietly slip from homosexuality to paedophilia, as if the two were somehow connected. Needless to say, being gay has nothing at all to do with child sex abuse, but many of the 100+ online commentators make the same connection as the newspaper:
"Once adults are encouraged to think about children sexually it justifies all sorts of behaviour. If teachers did this sort of thing they'd be out of a job and locked up!"
"I would not want my 5 year old exploring his sexuality in the classroom with the 'help' of an adult."
"The level of 'sex education' for children in this country, these days, is tantamount to child abuse. When will someone call a halt?"
In a country where a doctor was forced out of her home by vigilantes too stupid to know the difference between a paediatrician and a paedophile, it's shockingly irresponsible for newspapers to mislead their readers so badly.
Gay people face enough discrimination as it is. We are attacked in the street, harassed at work and bullied at school. We need better education in schools to tackle homophobia from the start - in fact, we need organisations like No Outsiders. If only the media would allow them to do their jobs, instead of trying to turn public opinion against them. But, of course, that wouldn't make for such alarming headlines.