School's diocese cancels author visit and removes governors over approval of book with gay character

John Fisher School
The John Fisher School in Croydon, south London Credit: Google Street View

A planned visit by a gay author to a Catholic school in south London was cancelled after Southwark Archdiocese intervened and removed governors who backed the idea.

Simon James Green was due to take part in a discussion at The John Fisher School, a Catholic boys’ secondary school, in Croydon. His novel, Noah Can’t Even, features a gay character.

But Southwark Archdiocese, which oversees the school, said in a statement from education director Simon Hughes that "from time to time materials and events emerge for consideration that fall outside the scope of what is permissible in a Catholic school".

"In such circumstances, we have no alternative but to affirm our unequivocal and well-known theological and moral precepts and to act in accordance with them.

"The book-signing event scheduled for 7 March 2022 at The John Fisher School, Purley is one such event and we have recommended that the school’s leaders cancel it," the statement added.

The diocese also intervened to remove several governors in support of the school’s leadership team who wanted the visit to go ahead.

The author described how upset he felt and how the actions of the diocese sent a "terrible message".

Writing on social media, Green said: "I want the LGBT students there, for whom this sends the most terrible message, to see how much love and support there is for them all. That they’re fine, they’re not sinful, problematic or in any way wrong."

He said that the event would have involved discussion of being an awkward teenager, "the power of comedy, my career and about an eight-minute section of the importance of LGBT rep [representation]", adding that the school had really wanted the visit to go ahead but the diocese "had other ideas".

A separate visit by the author to St John’s Primary School in Gravesend, which is also controlled by the Southwark Archdiocese, was cancelled.

The talk was going to focus on his novels for younger children which do not include LGBT characters.

Pauline Buchanan, regional secretary of the London section of the NEU teaching union, representing staff members within the school, said: "The postponing of a visit to John Fisher School by author Simon James Green to celebrate World Book Day, and the subsequent decision to remove members of the school’s governing body, is a matter of grave concern.

"It sets a terrible precedent for LGBT+ rights and representation at the school. The NEU will be writing to the Southwark Archdiocese calling for the reinstatement of both the governing body members and for the visit by Simon James Green to be allowed to go ahead."

Humanists UK education campaigns manager Robert Cann said the Archdiocese had displayed "outrageous behaviour" in "discriminating against a well-regarded children’s author, whose work has been celebrated far and wide, simply because his work promotes LGBT acceptance".

"The result is that children, including LGBT children, are missing out on learning that LGBT people should be celebrated, and their relationships should be respected just like those of straight people."

"Dioceses should not have the power to block lessons that promote inclusion under the Equality Act, and they should not be able to sack governors who support such lessons. We will be calling on the authorities to intervene to prevent this from ever happening again."