Joanna Williams Joanna Williams

Why won’t the Tories ban pupils from transitioning?

A gender neutral toilet (Credit: Getty images)

Finally, after months of argument and expectation, media briefings and leaked drafts, it seems the government just might be ready to release its transgender guidance to schools. Possibly. In a few weeks.

Word is that this latest iteration asserts the importance of sex over gender. It makes it clear to schools that sports teams, toilets and changing rooms should be demarcated according to biology. Only female children are to play on girls’ sports teams or sleep in girls’ dormitories on school residential trips. This is sensible and in keeping with decisions recently taken by major sporting bodies.

But those hoping for a complete ban on children social transitioning – changing their name and pronouns and wearing uniform meant for the opposite sex – will be disappointed. Such a ban appears to have been ruled out. Instead, children will be allowed to change their gender identity at school – in ‘limited circumstances’ and with ‘appropriate safeguards’ in place. Primarily, this seems to mean that mum and dad must be informed.

Few parents are brave enough to take the risk

What’s shocking is that such a stipulation is deemed necessary. It lays bare the fact that, up until now, children have been able to make such life-altering decisions without their parents’ knowledge. A Policy Exchange report published earlier this year claimed that 40 per cent of state secondary schools were allowing children to self-declare their gender without parental consent. Not only have schools failed to communicate vital information but, worse, some teachers have actually colluded with gender-distressed children to keep their parents in the dark. This represents a breakdown in adult solidarity and, ultimately, an abdication of moral responsibility towards children.

Government guidance making it clear that schools should inform parents if their child is thinking of changing gender is a clear step in the right direction. But it is the minimum required if we are truly to put child welfare first. The fact is, after so many delays, guidance issued now does not fall on a blank slate.

Today’s children have been bombarded since their earliest days with the message that how a person feels about their gender trumps biological sex. It has been conveyed through children’s books, television programmes, library drag queen story hours and incessant social media content. Far from providing a refuge, schools have opened the door to campaigning organisations and re-written the relationships and sex education curriculum so that children spend less time learning how babies are made and more time learning how to become trans.  

This context means that simply informing mum and dad will do little to stem the tide of children seeking to transition. Concerned parents are confronted by children well versed in the importance of positively affirming someone’s identity. Indeed, they are more than likely to have picked up on the same message themselves. Groups like Mermaids have had astonishing success in propagating the idea that it is better to have a happy daughter than a dead son. This manipulative line is fundamentally dishonest: given love and support, gender confused children are no more likely to take their own lives than other children. But few parents are brave enough to take the risk.

Anything other than affirming your self-declared trans child’s wishes becomes even more difficult when the law is involved. The Bayswater Support Group for parents of children with gender dysphoria has recently written to the Crown Prosecution Service to raise concerns that its guidance on gender identity could lead to ‘spurious’ charges of domestic abuse. In their letter, they outline possible scenarios in which parents who do not consent to their teenager’s desire to undergo gender reassignment could face police prosecution.

When parents are under so much pressure to affirm their child’s chosen gender identity, and teachers simply have to ‘inform’ parents that this has happened, there are few opportunities to hit pause. Adults need to be able to assert their authority and take responsibility for the welfare of children. This might mean saying ‘no’ to social transitioning, or, at very least: ‘not yet’. A total ban on changing gender while at school could have helped achieve this.

The government did, at one point, consider this option but ran scared after claims that such a move would breach the Equalities Act. Rather than withstanding legal challenges or changing the law, government ministers revised their guidance. Reports that the soon-to-be-released guidance has been ‘toughened up’ by Kemi Badenoch, suggest some in cabinet wanted this watering-down to go further. Thank goodness they were stopped.

From what we know so far, the guidance provides a badly needed step in the right direction but leaves schools in the difficult position of having to negotiate the ‘limited circumstances’ in which social transition will be allowed. When confronted with distressed children and activist parents such decisions will not be easy. It should not surprise us if more schools simply opt for gender neutral uniforms and gender neutral language for all students. Sadly, this compromise is unlikely to quell the increase in the numbers of gender distressed children.

But perhaps concerned parents should take heart. We’ve been here before, after all. Several times. The guidance to schools has not yet been released and could easily be postponed or changed once more.

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