Expelling social work student for anti-equal marriage Facebook posts was right move

As a woman who is gay and a social worker I’ve witnessed the impact of direct and indirect prejudice first hand, writes Jessica Langston

Photo: Universal Images Group/REX Shuttershock

By Jessica Langston, social worker and PhD student at Birmingham University

I want to respond to an article published last week by Felix Ngole. Mr Ngole has been expelled from his social work course after he posted on Facebook voicing his opposition to equal marriage and quoting a bible verse that labelled homosexuality an “abomination”.

Mr Ngole is appealing his expulsion. In last week’s article, he sought to defend his conduct.

I’m a social worker. I’m also gay and raise two children who are autistic and receive social care services. From my perspective, Mr Ngole’s article leaves me certain that he should be barred from entering our profession.

In the article Mr Ngole says that it came as “quite a shock” to find himself expelled because he “stood up for someone’s right to exercise freedom at work”.

This was in reference to him posting on Facebook in defence of the actions of an American clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples. In defending the clerk, he quoted from the bible scripture referred to above.

By advocating the restriction of the right of marriage to a group of people based on their sexuality, Mr Ngole raises a number of questions regarding his understanding of oppression and the collective social work commitment to challenge it.

Lack of insight

For me, Mr Ngole also shows no insight into his actions. He says he disagrees “with a homosexual lifestyle” but, in the same sentence, insists this will not stop him from acting professionally when “dealing” with homosexuals.

Homosexuals are not “dealt” with. I can also assure Mr Ngole that my homosexuality isn’t a “lifestyle”. I didn’t pick it out of a catalogue or a fashion magazine. This language is oppressive, and offensive.

Correspondence from the university, as reported in the Telegraph, appears to point to the lack of insight that Mr Ngole had into the potential for harm in posting his views publically.

From what I’ve read, it seems the university are not seeking to police Mr Ngole’s thoughts, nor his private religious practice, but that he chose to share publicly views advocating the oppression of a particular group of people in society.

As far as I see it, the university had no choice but to follow up a complaint about this given Mr Ngole made such offensive comments in writing on social media.

Oppressive language

Mr Ngole is now appealing but continues to repeat remarks using oppressive language in the process. The very idea that, should he be successful, he could come into contact with my children, their grandparents, or myself, and use the terminology featured in his article worries me.

This goes further than just words. My eldest son has been bullied, with children attempting to use my sexuality as a weapon against him.

The damage of a single professional when she didn’t take it seriously, informed by her own personal religious beliefs, still has consequences today. Not only for my son, and other children but for the bullies who now believe that they can oppress a group because of a single characteristic, be it sexuality, skin colour or religion.

Indirect prejudice can impact practice

I’ve seen the impact even indirect prejudice can have on practice too. Once I returned from a difficult home visit where I’d been verbally abused. A parent shouted at me and called a ‘dyke’ and ‘dumb lesbian’.

I told my supervisor at the time. Her first comment was ‘how did he know? Why did you tell him you were gay?’

The message was clear. I wasn’t like the other staff who openly talked with families about their heterosexual relationships. My relationships were to be a secret, something I should be ashamed of.

In fact I hadn’t even told the service user I was gay. He had guessed. But so what if I had? When I returned to my team that day what I needed was support, what I got was indirect homophobia that had seeped through into a person’s practice.

The right to freedom of expression does not mean you can go around saying what you want without consequences. Just as I defend Mr Ngole’s right to his freedom of expression, I defend the freedom of the social work profession to uphold its standards and values.

The idea that social workers can be allowed to progress through training, and enter the profession, whilst advocating the restriction of basic rights to a group of people based upon their ethnicity, gender, religion, or sexuality is wrong. It goes against the very heart of the profession. As far as I’m concerned the University of Sheffield deserve our backing for protecting the name of social work.

More from Community Care

12 Responses to Expelling social work student for anti-equal marriage Facebook posts was right move

  1. anon March 17, 2016 at 4:17 pm #

    Wholeheartedly agree. Though I may be able to ‘sneak under the radar’ with my sexuality, it is only people with these views that make it necessary to. I think Sheffield University made the right decision.

  2. Jonathan Ritchie March 18, 2016 at 9:05 am #

    This incident reminds me of how the Stasi used to behave in East Germany. Upholding the Rights of one minority does not justify oppressing the Rights of others.

  3. AnonSWManager March 18, 2016 at 11:05 am #

    Thank you Jessica, am sincerely pleased to see an article in response to Mr Ngole’s unrepentant tripe. Agree it was starkly apparent in his original article that Mr Ngole remains lacking in capacity to critically reflect on his actions, take just a smidgen of accountability or to develop any insight. What also stood out for me in how his continuing predjudices would likely impair practice was his slip in using of “dealing” rather than “supporting” or “working with”. The profession will suffer no loss from his expulsion, good decision by the university!

  4. anon March 18, 2016 at 12:47 pm #

    I am a social worker myself and also an adopter and experienced direct discrimination as a lesbian by a social worker with similar religious views to Mr.Ngole that were allowed to go unchecked. I wholeheartedly back the actions of Sheffield University.

    I approached an agency to adopt a child, it had a good reputation amongst gay adopters because of previous good work that had gone on there – unfortunately for me the workforce had changed and a group of religious Christians were being allowed to exercise their prejudices and covertly discriminate unchecked. I spent two years trying to get my initial assessment to panel, the worker concerned then did everything she could to obstruct my being matched with a child. When I finally made a formal complaint the independent social worker who took over said that literally nothing had been done in two years to match me with a child, I would ring heartrendingly when Be My parent Came Out and the worker would say she didn’t have time to liaise with me over which children we should be targeting. I also discovered that two other sets of gay/lesbian adopters had formal complaints against the agency concerned and had each received appalling treatment. I was told it was a ‘personality clash’ until I said I was putting in a formal complaint at which point suddenly it was acknowledged that they had a problem. It was a dreadful experience and one that consumed about 4 years of my life. People with Mr. Ngole’s views who seek to expound those views publicly and think they can get away with it when discrimination is again the law have no business in social work

  5. Anon social worker March 18, 2016 at 2:19 pm #

    A social worker should welcome all beliefs. Each to their own. As a person who should be promoting equality and stand against predjudice, of course he should be removed from the course. I know many religious social workers, but none would be so silly as to vocalise opinions that marginalise people that we are suppose to help!

  6. TrickyDicky March 18, 2016 at 2:52 pm #

    The religious and in particular religious bigots love to use the term “lifestyle choice”.

    Being homosexual is no more a lifestyle choice than being black or disabled.

    Being religious is a “lifestyle choice”, no one (at least in this country) is forced to follow any religion, to do so is their choice and their cherry picking of tenants of some ancient religion to cover personal bigotry is again a personal “lifestyle choice”.

  7. student social worker March 18, 2016 at 4:09 pm #

    Brilliant article. Completely agree. It is nice to see a university taking its role seriously. My uni have failed to do this! I am hetrosexual but i have heard comments from fellow students such as “the uni should have seperate toilets for homesexual and transgender peopple” “downs syndromes would not srlf harm thry’re all really happy”

  8. Semi March 18, 2016 at 4:25 pm #

    Interestingly my manager, who just happens to be a gay man shares a different belief system to me in that he doesn’t agree with gay marriage. I guess for his own personal reasons.

  9. Pearlene Webb March 18, 2016 at 5:53 pm #

    Well said I totally agree with you people with views like Mr Ngole’s don’t belong in profession where they have power over others and should be weeded out before they can cause any damage to others.

  10. Andrea March 21, 2016 at 11:05 am #

    no social worker should be discussing themselves with service users it’s not why we’re visiting them

  11. Stuart March 22, 2016 at 12:00 am #

    Excellent article. Pity the normally excellent Community Care didn’t publish an article along these lines beside Ngole’s last week.

    When I first heard the story (& with limited information as I don’t haunt the social media) I was inclined towards leniency for Ngole, thinking maybe the Uni might have explored the situation as a learning opportunity for someone who is not yet a qualified social worker. Now having found out more of his views & his lack of understanding from what Ngole wrote in CC, I think the Uni’s biggest failing was to allow him onto their course in the first place.

    Hope they now stick to their position but use this experience to be more careful in future. Unfortunately I am not optimistic on these points.

  12. KM March 23, 2016 at 8:43 pm #

    Sorry to disappoint some of you. Same sex marriage is not ‘equal’ to heterosexual marriage. The legal definition is different. If you thought you were achieving equality you have been deceived.