Derbyshire school cancels Pride event following backlash peddled by right-wing press

Students, parents, staff, and the LGBTQ+ community were left disappointed, with many blaming the ‘inflammatory reporting’ of the Daily Mail and Telegraph.

Daily Mail

A secondary school in the High Peak, Derbyshire, found itself the focus of a media circus this week for planning to put on a Pride event, featuring the award-winning LGBTQ+ children’s author Seb Samuel. Samuel is better known as Aida H Dee, who runs Drag Queen Story. The author was going to explore issues around homophobia and mental health in literacy for the school’s Year 9 and 10 students.

In a letter to parents sent out in May, New Mills School said that students will have ‘the opportunity to express themselves’ and that ‘drag is an art form that is fundamental to the LGBT+ community that challenges the norm as a celebration and as a form of protest.’ As such, the school’s Pride Club had expressed desire for ‘drag to be an integral part of Pride Day,’ as the headteacher’s letter informed. Students were allowed to wear non-uniform on a ‘Drag n Rainbows’ theme. The school said they were encouraging ‘all students of all genders to wear something rainbow or colourful.’ They also said students may express themselves by doing something small like painting their nails, or ‘going all out in full blown drag.’

“The focus is that the students wear what makes them feel comfortable (within reason),” the letter stated.

While plenty of parents were in support of the LGBTQ+ celebration, it prompted criticism among some, and the story found its way onto the pages of the right-wing press.

‘Parents’ fury as secondary school urges kids as young as 11 to wear ‘full-blown drag’ for Pride Day… while drag queen will talk to pupils about ‘homophobia and mental health,’ splashed the Daily Mail.

The story was first reported in the Telegraph, which spoke of how ‘parents and MPs’ have reacted with fury after a secondary school urged children as young as 11 to wear ‘full-blown drag’ for Pride Day…’

Meanwhile, GB News made the story the focus of a ‘Kids in Drag? panel debate. In it, historian Dr David Starkey argued that the planned event is a symptom of a “new, compulsory mainstream.”

Following the backlash, the school informed it was cancelling the event. “Due to stories that have appeared in the national press I have now received a large number of emails, both supporting the event and expressing their concerns about the event,” the headteacher informed.

In response to the headteacher’s change of heart, the Mail ran an ‘exclusive,’ citing school ‘insiders’ concerns’ about the event.

What the sensationalist reports fail to mention was the disappointment felt within much of the school community, and opposition to the event being cancelled.

“A great shame for those who put a lot of effort into it and organised it thanks to a minority bunch of bigots,” someone wrote in response to the announcement.

“It was a fun day for children to dress out of uniform, express themselves as they wish and learn about other people’s lives and choices. The school was not pushing it. It was an amazing day that nobody was being forced to join in. I’m devastated that this has been cancelled, as is my child,” said a parent.

Others spoke of the ‘inflammatory reporting’ by the Mail and the Telegraph and how the newspapers had deliberately ‘stirred up’ trouble.

“I can’t help but feel that this cancellation is due to the negative press,” someone commented.

Left Foot Forward spoke to a Year 10 student at the school, who shared their frustration over the cancellation.

“Those who complained about the event might not have had bad intentions, but I feel it was as much to do with the propaganda put out there in the media about it, then anything.

“This anti-trans sentiment only creates more negativity, when the school was only trying to promote inclusivity and positivity.”

Culture war stoking stories like these are becoming an all too familiar feature in the populist media. The so-called ‘drag panic,’ that is a moral panic which derives from the belief that drag, when exposed to minors, can be harmful because of its perception as being sexual in nature, is gaining traction, particularly in the United States, where anti-drag legislation is sweeping through the nation.

Across the US, right-wing groups continue to disrupt family-friendly drag events, and conservative state lawmakers are advancing – and passing – bills that place restrictions on LGBTQ+ expression and take aim at drag performers. Critics of the laws call them discriminatory and unconstitutional.

Worryingly, the moral panic around drag seems to be making its way to the UK, as proven by the media uproar surrounding the Derbyshire school’s planned Pride event.

Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

Image credit: Twitter screen grab

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