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'A demonic agenda': How sex ed became the target of anti-LGBT groups at the National Stadium

CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATORS AND anti-LGBT campaigners reacted angrily to reports that the Irish Athletic Boxing Association (IABA) is investigating the use of the National Stadium by a Christian group earlier this week.

The IABA, which owns the purpose-built boxing stadium in Dublin, announced the probe just hours before an event about sex education in schools aimed at ‘concerned’ parents.

The Journal reported on Tuesday that questions were being raised at political level about whether the event complied with the boxing association’s equality charter, which explicitly references the LGBT community.

The event specifically targeted the teaching of issues around gender and same-sex marriage which will be included – among other new modules – on the Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) curriculum.

SPHE was first introduced at secondary level in the year 2000, and is designed to give pupils an outlet to learn personal and social skills, as well as helping them in their personal relationships with others.

It is a non-exam subject taught at Junior and Leaving Certificate level.

The SPHE curriculum is currently in the process of being updated by the government, which wants to update the syllabus to encompass more inclusive points of view and expand it beyond simple biological lessons.

But the proposals, particularly around gender, have been an ongoing target of conservative, far-right and anti-LGBT groups in the past year, when misinformation about the queer community has been on the rise in Ireland.

The result has seen various false narratives emerge around what’s proposed for the new curriculum, which have become mixed up among the genuinely held moral concerns among religious groups who feel the syllabus will conflict with their views.  

The meeting, billed as an ‘SPHE information’ event, was described by its promoters online as a discussion evening about “radical changes in sexual education for children”.

Held on Tuesday evening, it was organised by Christian Voice Ireland, a group which claims to represent over 80 churches and ministries on the island of Ireland and which has a registered address at the National Stadium.

In the run-up to the event, the evening was given only a muted promotion on social media, with Christian Voice Ireland’s website urging those interested not to post about it out of fear it would attract protestors.

Ironically, one of the most vocal promoters of the event was Christian Voice Ireland director Pastor John Ahern, who posted about it almost daily on his Facebook page in the week leading up to the event.

Ahern previously made headlines in 2021 for ignoring Covid restrictions to hold a sermon at the Papal Cross in Dublin’s Phoenix Park.

He also regularly shares conspiracies to his Facebook page, including that the Covid pandemic was a fake agenda led by “leftist/globalists” and climate denialism, and last year he shared a post which says abortion kills more black people than the Ku Klux Klan.

In a four-minute promotional video for the event, Ahern – who leads the evangelical All Nations Church, which also has a registered address in the stadium – referenced the SPHE syllabus but barely specified what his exact concerns were beyond children being “sexualised” (without saying how).

“We’re all concerned about our children, and even before the changes [to the curriculum] came in, both my wife and myself were concerned about what our children were telling us about what they were hearing in school” he told viewers.

Ahern also claimed that schools were no longer a safe or inclusive place for religious parents, though again he did not explain why.

‘Demonic agenda’

The reasons became clearer on the night, when speakers were live-streamed on YouTube baldly repeated misinformation about the LGBT community and suggested that the SPHE syllabus was being foisted on parents and children by a minority of elites and NGOs.

It was the second such event, following a similar information evening about the SPHE curriculum held at the stadium in July.

download (2) Google Street View The event was held in the National Stadium in Dublin on Tuesday (file photo) Google Street View

Ahern was the main speaker, delivering an impassioned rallying cry against the syllabus for almost half an hour towards the end of the event, though others who took the stage included Independent Senator Sharon Keogan and Gript reporter Ben Scallan.

Hundreds of people are reported to have been in attendance.

Secondary school teacher Eoghan Cleary wrote for The Journal this week about how he attended to obtain a better insight into what the group’s concerns were based upon.

However, he explained how it soon became apparent that the event was a forum for stoking unfounded fears about the welfare of children and anti-LGBT hatred. 

“There was lots of high emotion, the wringing of hands, the ridiculing of the LGBTQIA+ community, teachers being referred to as predators and groomers, calls for political resignations, false claims of what children are to be taught, the purporting of conspiracy theories involving the agenda of childless government ministers, climate change denial and the sterilisation of children,” he said.

Strutting around the stage, Ahern claimed the syllabus was “a demonic agenda to sexualise children in the name of education” and that lessons about LGBT issues were being pushed by “dangerous people” – claims similar to language used by believers in the QAnon conspiracy theory.

“Children who are taught this delusional ideology will suffer harm,” he told the audience at one point.

He also referred to LGBT books being placed in libraries as “perverted” – echoing a campaign that has recently been taken up by far-right protesters - and claimed that childless politicians shouldn’t be able to be Minister for Children or Education.

Another speaker, Pastor Tunde Oke of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, claimed the proposed syllabus was “grooming” children - a false slur that has repeatedly been deployed against the LGBT community over decades.

He also suggested that the curriculum was being forced on people against their will by an unnamed minority.

“Everybody knows that this is wrong – well, most people, let’s not say everybody – because the minority is pushing this,” he said.

“It’s a form of grooming. It’s a form of grooming. A lot of the children will get into these activities, not because they want to, but because they don’t want to look like the odd ones out. Which is a very dangerous thing.”

In her speech, Keogan referred to the curriculum as “State-sponsored gender confusion” that was “indoctrinating” children pushed by Government-funded NGOs who support LGBTQ people. 

“Radical activist ideologues [are] in positions of power in the State, who are actively pursuing this agenda,” she said.


Another feature of the evening was the distribution of flyers, which likewise contained thinly veiled references to conspiracy theories and outright misinformation about LGBT people.

Those present were encouraged to take leaflets with them to warn others about the SPHE curriculum, and to form groups with other parents to lobby politicians against it.

Ahern claimed in his promotional video for the event that the group had printed 100,000 of these flyers, after 20,000 printed over the summer had run out.

“The flyer essentially distills this broad programme or curriculum that is being implemented into simple bullet points, with regards to what you as a parent need to be concerned about,” he said.

“I can assure you, you need to be concerned.”

The Journal has heard from one teacher this week who said that the leaflet has recently been distributed in their area.

They attached images of the flyer, which references the syllabus and claims that “the sexualisation of our children has begun”.

On one side, the leaflet falsely suggests that plans to update the curriculum are the result of a push by the United Nations and World Health Organisation to get children to “start experimenting with sex as young as possible”.

It also claims that the new curriculum is “the beginning of the normalisation of paedophilia”.

“Childrens’ [sic] minds are precious but malleable. Introducing notions of sex will lead them to not fear sexual predators,” the leaflet reads, without citing any evidence in another reference to the ‘groomer’ slur.

The leaflet also mentions children of certain ages being taught about masturbation, sexual feelings, sexual intercourse, gender identity and pornography, without any context about what exactly they will be taught and when. 

Screenshot 2023-09-29 181406 A section on one of the leaflets handed out by the group

Although there are links to UN and WHO documents, there is only one link on the flyer to an aspect of the sex education course for primary children and no other links to where parents can find the syllabus themselves or obtain further context about it. 

On another side, the flyer also claims that the new curriculum was in breach of the Children First Act 2015, legislation which outlines requirements under law for State services to protect children.

The Act is intended to raise awareness of child abuse and neglect and provides for mandatory reporting by professionals, such as carers and psychologists, when they learn about child abuse.

However, it has baselessly been used by anti-LGBT demonstrators and far-right conspiracy theorists – including those who have protested against LGBT books for children in Irish libraries – to imply that children are being ‘groomed’.

Such claims riff on far-right concerns about LGBT people, with recent anti-trans rallies in Ireland calling for the protection of “children’s innocence” – language that is also used in the leaflet.

SPHE syllabus

Christian Voice Ireland are not the first group to have taken aim at the SPHE curriculum or sex education in Ireland, and the event is not the first time that there has been misinformation about it.

As long ago as 2019, The Journal fact-checked a local election candidate running for Renua who claimed children aged between 0 and 4 could be taught about masturbation.

That claim was found to be false and, like the flyers distributed at the event on Tuesday, referenced a report from the WHO – a document  called “Standards for Sexuality Education in Europe: A framework for policy makers, educational and health authorities and specialists.”

That report contained an example framework for sex education from birth to 18 years, with a primary focus on “sexuality as a positive human potential and a source of satisfaction and pleasure”.

The leaflet is correct that it references masturbation, sexual feelings, sexual intercourse, gender identity and pornography - but is careful in saying children can be “given information about” these things as opposed to being “taught” about them.

It also justifies the reason for providing information and guidance on sexuality by stating that, even from a young age, children learn about the norms and values around human sexuality.

Multiple academic studies and books have noted that children, from a young age, engage in sexual exploration and display curiosity about their own bodies and the bodies of other people.

The same WHO paper also notes that the approach has been criticised because it “may lead to increased or earlier sexual activity, loss of innocence, damage, or increased risk of sexual abuse”.

Meanwhile, the UN paper referenced on the flyer, the UN International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education noted how few children globally are given information that empowers them to make informed decisions about their sexuality and relationships.

It points to “a significant body of evidence” which shows that appropriate sex education enables children and young people to develop: “accurate and age-appropriate knowledge, attitudes and skills; positive values, including respect for human rights, gender equality and diversity, and, attitudes and skills that contribute to safe, healthy, positive relationships”.

Digging into the report, it’s clear to see that the leaflet completely mischaracterises what children are taught at certain ages.

For example, it suggests that children as young as 5 will be taught about masturbation because of a section that references “who can touch their body” – but that section of the document doesn’t reference masturbation at all.

One of the things it does reference is how children can “identify which parts of the body are private” or “demonstrate how to respond if someone is touching them in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable”, which are clearly designed to prevent sexual abuse.

References to pornography for other age groups likewise suggest empowering children to know what pornography is, why it is so common, and how it is different to real-life sexual encounters.

Both of these documents have been the sources of misinformation about sexual education for a number of years, and will likely be cited by others in the future too.

The SPHE curriculum is the latest, Irish-specific strand of this type of misinformation; The Journal also looked at the revised syllabus earlier this year after claims spread in media and online about it.

The various aspects of the entire syllabus at both Junior and Leaving Cert level can be found here.

The overall curriculum actually revolves around five strands: Mental health; Gender studies; Substance use; Relationships and sexuality education (RSE); and Physical activity and nutrition.

Revisions to the sex education component have their own section, and can be found here.

The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA), which advises the Minister for Education on school curriculums and assessment, has explained the update by saying the curriculum should address “burning issues in society”.

These include gender equality, gender identity, sexual and gender-based violence, consent, online harassment and exploitation, and the influence of pornography.

That came after consultations with Leaving Cert students who believed that sex education was too focused on biology, such as contraception and sexual transmitted infections, and not enough on emotional aspects of relationships and LGBTQ issues.

But no actual changes have been put forward and the new Leaving Cert syllabus still hasn’t been introduced. 

The report by the NCAA that consulted with students also asked teachers, parents, principals and other stakeholders for their thoughts and then outlined a possible future approach.

“Most people agreed that moving towards a more holistic and positive approach is desirable,” it said.

“In addition, there is agreement that RSE should be developmentally-appropriate, culturally and contextually relevant, and scientifically accurate.”

It also noted that education should be “inclusive across the domains of sexuality, gender, culture, ethnicity, dis/abilities, faiths and beliefs”.

Furthermore, the inclusion of “LGBTQ+” issues was – as in the UN and WHO papers – accompanied by things like consent, the role of the internet, positive sexual expression and self-identity and self-esteem.

The only reference to pornography came via feedback from certain groups, while there was no reference in the entire document to masturbation or sexual fantasies (which was also referenced on the leaflet).

For any parents still concerned, the NCAA also states that there is a right to request that children can opt out of any lessons that go against their conscience or beliefs.

A public consultation on the sex education syllabus remains open until the middle of October.


However, none of this information was included in the event at the National Stadium on Tuesday, when talks overwhelmingly focused on the issue of gender. 

Ahead of the event, the IABA said announced that it was investigating, after Cork TD Mick Barry questioned whether it was appropriate for the group to use the National Stadium in light of the IABA’s policies on inclusion.

“The IABA is committed to promoting equality and treating people fairly and with respect by providing equal access and opportunities for all,” a spokesperson for the association said in a statement to The Journal.

Minister Catherine Martin subsequently welcomed the investigation on Wednesday, which prompted a backlash from conservatives, religious figures and anti-LGBT groups online.

Social media flooded with suggestions that the IABA probe represented a double-standard, with claims that the investigation itself attacked the freedom of Christians to express anti-LGBT opinions (though few mentioned the misinformation which suggested the SPHE syllabus is part of a “demonic agenda” that is ‘grooming’ school-children).

Others asked why there was no concern around the use of Croke Park by Muslims for Eid al-Adha in 2020 and in 2021.

Muslims who used Croke Park in each of those years, however, did not express anti-LGBT rhetoric at the event or outwardly criticise any group mentioned in the GAA’s diversity and inclusion policy.

Neither Ahern or Christian Voice Ireland have commented publicly on the event since it was held.

It should also be noted that the Catholic Education Partnership, a charity with a mandate for education issues from primary school to third level, welcomed the consultation.

The group said earlier this year that it was “disappointed that the spiritual aspect of wellbeing has been neglected” within the proposed changes, but expressed confidence that the NCCA would recognise the importance of that element at all levels of SPHE.