LONDON British children as young as four are being taught about same-sex relationships through fairytales and storybooks with gay and lesbian characters.
A pilot scheme to introduce children to gay issues is running in several schools across England with stories such as "King and King", about a gay prince, or "And Tango Makes Three", about gay penguins who fall in love and raise an adopted child.
The 600,000-pound ($1.16 million) scheme, called the "No Outsiders" project, has the backing of the Department for Education and is designed to help schools adjust to new rules on promoting homosexuality as a lifestyle.
But it has sparked anger among some religious groups who say it is homosexual propaganda.
"This is tantamount to child abuse," said Stephen Green, director of the religious campaign group Christian Voice. "The whole project is nothing more than propaganda aimed at primary school children to make them sympathetic to homosexuality."
According to those heading the "No Outsiders" project, children in one participating school used the "King & King" fairytale -- which tells of a prince who rejects the love of three princesses before falling in love with and "marrying" another prince -- as a basis for writing "alternative Cinderella" stories.
In another participating school in London, children aged between 4 and 11 are rehearsing for a performance of an opera called "The Sissy Duckling" about a male duckling who loves cooking, cleaning and art.
INSPIRED BY TUTU
Britain repealed a law in 2003 which had banned local authorities from promoting homosexuality as a lifestyle and the "No Outsiders" pilot is regarded as the first effort to make gay issues part of modern primary school life.
The government's school inspectors have also identified homophobic bullying as a problem in classrooms and playgrounds.
Those leading the project say it is inspired by the words of South African Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who said in February 2004: "Everyone is an insider, there are no outsiders -- whatever their beliefs, whatever their color, gender or sexuality."
They reject suggestions they are peddling propaganda and say that stories such as "King & King" are no more propaganda than is Cinderella or other traditional fairytales.
"These books are presenting one aspect of the spectrum of daily life," Elizabeth Atkinson, director of the project, told BBC radio. "What we are doing is representing reality ... Many, many children in this country have this as part of their everyday experience."
She said one of the main aims was to prevent bullying of children who have homosexual parents or who are perceived as gay or lesbian by their peers.
"The life experience of all children will be profoundly affected by the ethos of their school, and this means creating a school environment where no one is an outsider," the project's leaders say in a statement on their Web site.
But Tahir Alam, a spokesman on education for the Muslim Council of Britain, told Reuters the project was promoting notions of family life which were contrary to the teachings of Islam and many other religions.
"Why are we introducing these ideas to such young children?" he said in a telephone interview. "A lot of parents will be very concerned about the exposure of their children to such books, which are contrary to their religious beliefs and values."
Green warned the project could expose children to sexual predators by making them think "that two boys fiddling with each other ... is perfectly normal".
"Parents should be able to have the peace of mind of knowing that school is a safe place," he told Reuters. "And to have their children indoctrinated with pro-homosexual propaganda is an abuse of the trust parents place in schools."