- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 18, 2007

LONDON — In British schools, young children are learning that the prince doesn’t always fall in love with a princess, and not every family includes a Mama Bear and Papa Bear.

A new pilot project is using picture books, the arts, drama and other techniques to introduce homosexual themes to schoolchildren ages 4 to 11.

In one picture book, “King & King,” a prince fails to fall in love with three different princesses before finally falling in love with a man.

In another, “And Tango Makes Three,” a zookeeper realizes that two male penguins are in love. He gives them an egg; the hatchling, Tango, grows up with two fathers.

The project, called No Outsiders, is needed to combat the “absolutely massive” problem of bias against homosexuals among British schoolchildren, said Elizabeth Atkinson, the director.

“There are more homophobic incidents in our schools than racist incidents,” she said.

This bias ranges, she said, from the casual and common use of the word “gay” as an insult to serious bullying of children with two parents of the same sex. Such bullying can do children serious harm, she said, prompting them to withdraw and causing their academic performance to decline.

But the project has had the effect of uniting conservative Christians and Muslims in opposition.

“Islam doesn’t approve of that sort of behavior,” said Tahir Alam, the education spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain. “It’s morally unacceptable.”

Simon Calvert, a spokesman for the Christian Institute, did not return phone calls seeking comment. But he told the Sunday Observer newspaper that the No Outsiders project amounted to “the active promotion of homosexuality in schools.”

“Let’s arrange a series of meetings around the country where parents of primary school children can look at these books,” he said. “The majority would be aghast.”

The project has received nearly $1.2 million in government money funneled through the Economic and Social Research Council, a nongovernmental organization that makes its own decisions on how to spend the grants it gets. Requests for comment from the council went unanswered.

The pilot project involves 14 schools in England. Miss Atkinson said she hopes the program, which tries to give teachers the information and tools they need to raise the issue of same-sex parents with younger children, will soon be extended to many other schools in the country.

She laughed at suggestions that the program promoted homosexuality. There is no evidence, she said, that children exposed to such literature become homosexual in greater numbers than other children.

The books do not promote homosexuality, she said. Instead, she argued, they reflect reality.

Mr. Alam, of the Muslim Council of Britain, said when schools present as acceptable behavior which Muslims find immoral, it comes close to curtailing freedom of religion.

Miss Atkinson rejected that argument.

“Religions have been used as the excuse for hatred and intolerance for too long,” she said.

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