Not always a celebration of difference

The debacle of Mohammed Nazam Conservative mayor of Keighley, West Yorkshire, is a diversity tale of our times. It illustrates the fact that inclusion is not always easy or possible.

Councillor Nazam firstly upset his own Muslim community by taking part in a Pride event and had to apologise to them, saying it was a ‘lapse of judgement’. He then faced uproar from those offended by his apology and so had to apologise to the LGBT community for apologising to the Muslim community.  But as he said “all elected Muslim representatives” would have needed to apologise to the Muslim community for attending such an event.

 I say it is a tale of our times because unlike the image of diversity as being a pretty mosaic of differences, in reality it is often a messy mix of contradictory beliefs and attitudes, power struggles and competing demands.  Religion, sexual orientation and gender reassignment are all protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010, and have been in tension from the start.

Christians rarely enjoy popular support when they object to some of views of the LGBT community but it is a much more sensitive issue when it is Muslims who are objecting. The protected characteristic of religious belief had Muslims in mind when it was introduced in 2006. Those of us who worked in organisations immediately post 9/11 understand why as there was a fear of backlash against Muslims in general.

So there is more hesitancy in condemning them for any views they may have against LGBT issues. Much of the opposition to the teaching of gender identity and LGBT lifestyles in schools is coming from religious groups. There wasn’t outright condemnation of Muslim parents who protested outside Parkfield primary school in opposition to the teaching of the No Outsiders programme, despite talk from some that they needed ‘educating’. 

Mostly we try and avoid any conflict but sometimes in diversity we have to meet these challenges head on. When equal opportunities was renamed diversity and when the EHRC replaced the different anti-discrimination Commissions there was concern among specialists, that some groups  would be relegated to fifth division and others would stay in the premier league. 

 I think the way this particular episode played out is clear – the mayor’s offense against the LGBT community was greater, because it was for this ‘error of judgement’ that he was suspended from the Conservative party and then he had to resign.