A Catholic state school has been plunged into turmoil after the local diocese intervened to cancel a visit by a gay author.
Simon James Green had been due to speak at John Fisher School in Purley, Croydon, on Monday, but his visit was canceled at the last minute by Southwark Archdiocese.
The diocese also intervened to remove a number of governors after they backed the school’s senior leadership team, who wanted the visit to go ahead.
The intervention has incensed school staff, with some threatening to walk out in protest.
Mr Green is an award-winning children’s author who writes books for a range of age groups. His books by him for young adults feature gay characters, and he has been described by WH Smith as “one of the UK’s leading writers of LGBTQ+ teen fiction”.
John Fisher is a ‘voluntary-aided’ faith school – a state school where the majority of governors are ‘foundation governors’ appointed by a religious body. The school is overseen by Southwark Archdiocese.
On Monday, Mr Green was due to visit for a talk and book signing to commemorate World Book Day.
However, a few days beforehand, the Education Commission of Southwark Archdiocese published a statement saying it had recommended the school’s leadership cancel the visit, because it fell “outside the scope of what is permissible in a Catholic school”.
The school’s leadership team voted to go ahead with the visit – a decision subsequently backed by the governing body.
This prompted an intervention by the diocese, who canceled the event and removed a number of foundation governors.
A separate visit by Mr Green to St John’s Primary School in Gravesend, which was scheduled for Wednesday and falls within the diocese, was also cancelled.
In the days leading up to the move, a Catholic website, Catholic Truth, had led a campaign to cancel the event at John Fisher, saying it was a “major problem” that boys are “misled into accepting, as normal and good, sexual behavior which is condemned by Christ’s Church”.
After the school’s leadership had opted to go ahead with the event, John Fisher’s chaplain, Father James Clark, sent an email to parents protesting the decision, saying Mr Green’s books “are not in line with Catholic Education and are contrary to the ethos of our school and to the teachings of the Church”
Fr Clark claimed the event had “caused scandal in the local area” and brought the school’s “international reputation into doubt”.
“The headteacher and some Governors have decided to disobey the clear instruction from the diocese and this will have serious consequences in the weeks ahead,” he said.
Calling for parents to lobby the school for its cancellation, he said that the event was “not about diversity”.
“No one is denying the existence of those who have differing views and beliefs to ourselves, the event is about promoting the literature of a lifestyle choice that is contrary to the teachings of Jesus Christ, and therefore has no place in a Catholic school.”
He added: “St John Fisher had no choice but to make a stand against tyranny and to defend truth. Now is our time to imitate our patron and to restore the dignity of our former reputation prior to this situation.”
The cancellation and removal of the governors has sparked fierce condemnation from teachers at John Fisher School. Members of the NEU and NASUWT unions passed a motion expressing their “serious concern”.
“We believe this decision violates the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child… and deters from our journey to become a Rights Respecting School,” the motion says.
It goes on: “We stand in support of – and have full confidence in – our current leadership team at The John Fisher School and their decision to approve the author visit.”
It adds: “Members are concerned about the mental and emotional impact these events have had on our LGBTQ+ community and wider inclusive John Fisher School family, including staff, students and parents.”
i understands that some teaching staff threatened to go on strike in protest, but that the foundation governors requested that they did not due to the impact it would have on students.
speaking to i, Mr Green said the cancellation had come as a shock. “It’s a horrible thing to know that people out there hate what you write about and who you are so much that they feel this strongly about it,” he said.
“It does make me angry, but to be honest with you what I am most worried about is the message it sends to LGBT kids at that school and in general – that somehow they are wrong and inappropriate and everything they are is kind of sinful and problematic. I think that is a terrible thing.”
He said the incident reminded him of Section 28 – the infamous law which banned councils from “promotion of homosexuality” until it was scrapped in 2003. “We’re dealing here with people who actually think it’s possible to basically turn someone gay by talking about it or by allowing them to read or see on television an LGBT person,” he said.
Mr Green characterized his books for young adults as comedy novels, featuring LGBT characters and “soft romance”.
“There is occasional kissing, that is about as far as it goes,” he said. “There is nothing in there which you wouldn’t find in pretty much any Young Adult novel that’s published today.”
His books for younger readers “celebrate underdogs” but “there is nothing LGBT in those books at all”, which Mr Green said made the cancellation of his visit to the primary school feel “very personal”. “That feels to me like, ‘well that’s because you’re a gay man’”.
Mr Green said he had received emails from parents at John Fisher “saying how disappointed their kids are and how they were looking forward to it”, and “the school themselves have been nothing but helpful and really supportive”.
He said he would “happily” still do the visit if it is rescheduled. “There are more important things at stake here,” he said. “One of them is doing the right thing and being seen to do the right thing, and showing those kids that actually love ultimately can win.”
John Fisher School declined to comment. A spokesperson said: “Our students are preparing for forthcoming mock examinations and we would kindly request that you now give us an opportunity to concentrate on our key role, which is educating the children we serve.”
A spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Southwark directed i to its initial statement on John Fisher, saying “at this time, the diocese does not have any further information to add to the statement”.