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.
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.