Words: Will Stroude
Andrea Leadsom has said she believes parents "should be able to choose" the age at which their children are "exposed" to LGBT-inclusive sex and relationship education.
The Leader of the House of Commons and Conservative MP for South Northamptonshire told LBC Radio that while that while she personally supports the teaching of LGBT-inclusive sex and relationships education in schools, parents should be able to withdraw children from such classes "up until a certain age".
As four more schools in Birmingham announce they had suspended lessons on LGBT acceptnance following a homophobic backlash from parents, Ms Leadsom was pressed asked for her views on the issue during an interview on Wednesday morning (20 March).
The 55-year-old, who abstained on Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act in 2013, later claiming it "harms" Christians, replied: "I think [the Conservative party] has done a huge amount to support LGBT rights, and quite rightly too. I'm a massive supporter of the efforts we've made to achieve real equality in LGBT rights.
"It's absolutely vital that children grow up understanding the society that they live and do grow up tolerant and seeking equality and respecting differences."
She continued: "I think it's right that the government should have passed legislation that requires that relationships and sex education is taught in schools.
"But at the same time I would also agree that it's right that parents should be able to choose the moment at which their children become exposed to that information, and there are steps taken to enable parents to withdraw their children from classes up until a certain age."
Curnently, state schools in England are obliged to teach sex and relationships education (SRE) from age 11 upwards, with parents free to withdraw their children from classes other than those related to biological reproduction up to the age of 16.
Academies and free schools do not have to follow the National Curriculum and so are not under the obligation to teach sex and relationships education.
The 'No Outsiders' programme currently at the centre of the row in Birmingham primary schools does not teach sex education, but instead informs pupils about the existence of LGBT people and families, as well as covering topics like race, disability, gender and the Equality Act 2010.
Pressed on whether a five-year-old should be taught about LGBT issues, Ms Leadsom replied: "For many parents, myself included, I would be entirely happy for my children to grow up finding that their LGBT classmates are exactly the same as them.
"One of my own kids was in a class with a friedn that had two mums, and that was absolutely normal right from a young age."
"I think it's really important that we absolutely accept equality in every area, whilst at the same time respecting that parent might have concerns about how young their children are when they become aware of these things."
She added: "I think it is the case that you have to allow parents to choose to withdraw their children up to a certain age, but at the same time, in order to have an equal society there comes a point where children do need to understand the social norms around them."
Watch Andrea Leadsom's appearance on LBC below (her comments on LGBT-inclusive sex and relationships education come around the 29.44 mark):