On transphobic rhetoric — schools are a new battleground

To say that we have had some political turmoil in the UK recently is an understatement – in fact someone recently wryly noted that we are living a chapter in future History textbooks. In the most recent leadership election, both candidates were keen to show the right-wing of their party that they could be trusted, but the unusual focus for this was the trans community. When she was Equalities Minister, Liz Truss was heavily criticised by the LGBT+ campaigning group Stonewall for stating that the government would look at under-18s being “protected” from irreversible decisions; this was echoed in her leadership campaign when she said that trans women are not women. Equally, though, (the now current Prime Minster) Rishi Sunak made the same declaration. Finally, the then attorney general and now Home Secretary (the UK minister for the interior and one of the most powerful politicians after the PM) Suella Braverman stated that no school should punish children for misgendering trans children; this was widely seen as one of the most blatant attacks by a member of government against trans rights.

Where does that leave us as educators, especially where we are living in a hostile environment to LGBT+ rights?

We could easily spend a long time looking at how Braverman’s comments were themselves (ironically) illegal, but a more fruitful approach is to consider how we keep children safe.

If a child knowingly misgenders someone, that is an act of bullying. They are aware that what they are doing will probably cause distress, yet they go ahead and do it anyway. There also seems to be an unusual level of concern in right-wing rhetoric about bathrooms and who uses what. I have been asked by students what they should do if a child asks for a gender-neutral space. Again, I draw them to what is going to be best for the child. Forcing a transitioning child into a gendered space –especially one where they are transitioning away from– can be deeply distressing for them; a more neutral space would surely be better for them and their mental health.

LGBT+ issues with children carry the same over-arching requirement that any issue does – namely, we must do all we can to keep safe and protect children. In this case we need to consider the mental wellbeing of the children and what damage will be done to them by not treating them with equality and compassion. For me personally, no manner of declaration from government ever supersedes that.

This post contributed by All Inc!’s Andy Bloor
on behalf of the UK team — thank you Andy!
Photo by Alexander Grey on Unsplash

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