The following was ✠Jerome’s response to an invitation from Same Beale, the Partnership Adviser: Health & Wellbeing, Education, Standards and Achievement at Brighton & Hove City Council to give feedback on the fourth edition of the Trans Inclusion Schools Toolkit for the Local Education Authority. As part of the consultation exercise reviewing the draft document before presentation to and approval by Brighton & Hove City Council’s Children, Young People and Skills Committee in June 2021, members of the Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education were asked in October/November of 2020 to review the policy and provide feedback. The final version was published in September of 2021 utilising some of the recommendations.
As a member of the Brighton & Hove Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education (SACRE) representing Orthodox Christians and the city’s Faith Council as Chair of Brighton & Hove Faith in Action (multi-faith charity); and as a foundational signatory to the Faith Covenant facilitating trust and partnership between Brighton & Hove City Council and the city’s Faith community[i], I am grateful for this opportunity to offer requested feedback on the Trans Inclusion Schools Toolkit (Version 4) 2020.
Having been a former National Convenor for UCMC/NUS Wales and National Committee member of NUS UK[ii] for Equality and Diversity and a former Trade Union representative for PCSU[iii] I have experience of and familiarity with the historical campaign for LGBT and related equality rights in UK legislation. As a local and regional Christian leader and as an elected representative of Brighton & Hove’s Faith community, I have a very great interest in ensuring that fundamental rights and protections of citizens are protected and served in our local government agencies and institutions. I am therefore greatly edified by the existence of this Toolkit, now in its fourth edition, to provide help and assistance to Trans children and young people (who fit the gender reassignment protected characteristic under Equality Act and have taken ‘steps to live in the opposite gender’) in our Local Authority schools.
In commenting on this Toolkit, I have sought to achieve an outcome which balances the interests of Trans children and young people (who fit the gender reassignment protected characteristic under Equality Act and have taken ‘steps to live in the opposite gender’) with others. This is with the intention of finding a way of building inclusive and supportive communities for all concerned. In doing this I have sought to balance the needs of Trans children and young people (who fit the gender reassignment protected characteristic under Equality Act and have taken ‘steps to live in the opposite gender’) with the clear evidence that biological sex does indeed play a huge part in other young people’s self-determination and self-understanding around their identity and sexuality.
An equitable solution will make all pupils comfortable, rather than to positively discriminate the needs of one category over another – that defeats the objective of inclusion and unnecessarily accentuates difference. All pupils’ feelings and emotions are important, and all deserve consideration and accommodation. Again, while it may be an appreciable perspective from Trans children and young people (who fit the gender reassignment protected characteristic under Equality Act and have taken ‘steps to live in the opposite gender’) that biological sex is irrelevant to their own self-perception, nonetheless the opposite is generally true for most other pupils regarding theirs.
The Equality Act
While it is hotly debated whether biological sex determines gender, for the vast majority of children their biological sex is consistent with their sexuality and thus their self-identity at a fundamental level of self-knowledge and understanding, and should not therefore be casually dismissed when considering the implications of creating an environment in which Trans children and young people (who fit the gender reassignment protected characteristic under Equality Act and have taken ‘steps to live in the opposite gender’) may feel included. For example, heterosexual, homosexual and bisexual persons understand their gender and sexuality to be physiologically defined and in harmony with their biological sex.
The Equality Act 2010 says you must not be discriminated against because:
- you are (or are not) a particular sex
- someone thinks you are the opposite sex (this is known as discrimination by perception)
- you are connected to someone of a particular sex (this is known as discrimination by association)
In the Equality Act, sex can mean either male or female, or a group of people like men or boys, or women or girls[iv]. Using ‘gender identity’ instead of ‘sex’ as a marker between girls and boys currently contradicts the Equality Act which has ‘sex’ as a protected characteristic. For this reason, a Toolkit was scheduled in August of this year to be the subject of a Judicial Review granted by the High Court after a legal challenge was made by a fourteen-year-old biological girl over single-sex concerns; the publishers, Oxford County Council subsequently withdrew the Toolkit[v].
Issues regarding physical e.g. body image and psychological e.g. self-acceptance/esteem[vi], are common particularly among pubescent biological females over males[vii] and are the cause of similar stresses and anxieties that Trans children and young people (who fit the gender reassignment protected characteristic under Equality Act and have taken ‘steps to live in the opposite gender’) express about coming to an awareness of their own identity. Psychosocial problems, developmental variations, depression, eating disorders, suicidal ideation, self-harm are just some of the ways these issues can manifest themselves and if unaddressed may lead to developing neurosis and psychosis with longer term and debilitating consequences[viii]. Emotional resilience is something parents and teachers need to be aware of regarding all pupils and this will vary between all categories of self-identity and perception.
For example, recent research endorsed by UNESCO[ix] makes it quite clear that single-sex toilets are a particularly pressing issue for pubescent biological females. The issues here include not only the practical necessities of having access to bathrooms, but the sensibilities of young biological females at a sensitive time. The charity, Plan International UK[x] in 2017 commissioned research asking 2,000 women aged 18 to 34 about discussing their period. At school, almost half reported feeling ashamed to speak to their female teachers and 75% said they would not discuss it with their male teachers. It would surely be equitable in the Toolkit to ensure that the legally enshrined rights of sexes are not dismissed out-of-hand and to state that single-sex toilets/changing rooms, accommodation or single-occupancy facilities may still be appropriate for some pupils in particular situations as the law currently allows[xi].
Just as Trans children and young people (who fit the gender reassignment protected characteristic under Equality Act and have taken ‘steps to live in the opposite gender’) may feel marginalized, exposed or targeted for humiliation or otherwise made uncomfortable by language, the same is also true for other pupils. To have an aspect of one’s fundamental identity i.e. one’s biological sex, disparaged or otherwise regarded negatively or indeed negated altogether, is itself a form of discrimination and with regard to the imposition of gender-neutral concepts and terminology may be construed a form of harassment[xii] especially when applied disparagingly or derogatively.
Accurately reflecting the law
The Toolkit itself under the title “Relationships, sex and health education” (p.26) suggesting “Ideas for making the relationships, sex and health education trans inclusive include” states “Ensuring that the law (on the Equality Act and equal marriage for example) is accurately reflected as required in the Statutory Guidance, Relationships, Sex and Health Education”. Non-binary gender terminology is not used in the Equality Act concerning the rights and protections of sexes legally defined as female/male nor is it used in legislation for equal marriage which describes marriages between “same sex” couples[xiii]. To go on as the Toolkit does to suggest using “gender neutral” language contradicts within the same section the advice to accurately reflect the law.
It is important that everybody knows and understands their rights under the law and the avoidance completely of using legally, scientifically defined sex specific words/terms like female/male, woman/man, women/men may lead to confusion or a lack of understanding for all pupils in appreciation of theirs and others legal rights and protections. For example, the terms “cis-gender” and “non-binary” do not accurately describe the biological sex of a person and are not used in legislation regarding categories of biological sex, neither are they terms generally understood by the wider population in respect of providing the legal provisions of single-sex amenities and single-sex specific services e.g. women’s health. Trans children and young people (who fit the gender reassignment protected characteristic under Equality Act and have taken ‘steps to live in the opposite gender’) should, as with all children, be enabled to develop emotional resilience to cope with aspects of life they may find upsetting and this includes single-sex references.
With regard to Relationships, sex and health education (p.25) the sole use of gender neutral terms may likewise be confusing for pupils, especially for biological females but also for Trans children and young people (who fit the gender reassignment protected characteristic under Equality Act and have taken ‘steps to live in the opposite gender’) who will not be experiencing the same biological factors as their biological sex counterparts of the gender they are identifying with (Section 7.11 Relationships and sex education). In fact, this may provoke their sense of alienation and cognitive dissonance related to their gender preference and biological form causing them undue interior distress, self-consciousness or embarrassment e.g. in classroom discussions sharing biological experiences or pupils asking questions about their experience, and may even pressure Trans children and young people (etc.) to unduly or inadvertently declare their biological status over their presenting gender. The Toolkit does not mention this at all as a possible outcome and experience for Trans children and young people (etc.) and would appear to be a critical oversight especially in advice for teachers to address this possible eventuality. (Consider the advice given in Section 7.12 Vaccinations.)
While the Toolkit appreciably wishes to create an environment where Trans children and young people (who fit the gender reassignment protected characteristic under Equality Act and have taken ‘steps to live in the opposite gender’) do not feel uncomfortable, perhaps a caution with regard to using gender-neutral language should be included in order not to upset or confuse other children too. While some Trans people (etc.) may find some gender-specific nouns like mother/father, aunt/uncle, wife/husband difficult, the vast majority of people do not use them as pejorative in any way nor discriminating particularly of Trans people (etc.).
For example, it would be unreasonable to suggest that terms describing familial relationships and used particularly of children to their parents should be completely avoided and even disparaged and replaced by gender-neutral terms like “parent/guardian”. Parental and familial relationships are especially important in the development of children and contribute to their sense of safety and security, to deny the free expression of “mummy” or “daddy” may confuse and upset children, especially the very young and may even be counterproductive to the sense of safety and security desired for Trans children and young people themselves (who fit the gender reassignment protected characteristic under Equality Act and have taken ‘steps to live in the opposite gender’).
The right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion is an enshrined right in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights[xiv], Article 18[xv] and is protected by international law[xvi]. Heteronormativity i.e. a binary conception of gender, is a fundamental belief of many world religions regarding the morality and purpose of human sexual relationships for procreation, and it is a scientific biological fact concerning human reproduction i.e. any form of sexual reproduction resulting in human fertilization[xvii].
Religious belief is also a protected category in the Equalities Act 2010 which protects and has been tested in the courts, any philosophical belief that is “genuinely held”, “and not just an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available”, “about a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behavior”[xviii]. While nonbinary self-identifying individuals may not relate to, nor identify or understand themselves in terms of binary gender, it should not be suggested that any or all references to, or mention of, binary gender are occasions of deliberate or even unintended “offence”. It could be argued that to build emotional resilience, Trans children and young people (who fit the gender reassignment protected characteristic under Equality Act and have taken ‘steps to live in the opposite gender’) should be taught that the principle enshrined in the Freedom of thought, conscience and religion also protects conceptually their self-determining sense of self-identity.
It is possible to hold a difference in appreciation of another’s deeply held convictions and beliefs without intending deliberate harm nor discrimination of the other. As the Toolkit itself makes plain, there is a wide variance in subjective understanding of self-identity among Trans people (who fit the gender reassignment protected characteristic under Equality Act and have taken ‘steps to live in the opposite gender’), just as there is a widely accepted spectrum regarding sexuality. Diverse perspectives and opinions can be held by and among different people without manifesting actual detriment to anyone.
Direct or indirect discrimination legally requires empirical evidence i.e. a deliberate action by the perpetrator which is discriminatory[xix]; holding an opinion internally is not a form of discrimination. To deny in the internal forum the concept of non-binary gender, is not a form of actual discrimination toward Trans people (who fit the gender reassignment protected characteristic under Equality Act and have taken ‘steps to live in the opposite gender’). For example, atheists do not believe in the existence of God, but nobody would accuse them of discriminating against religious people, unless their opinion manifested itself in some form of actualized discriminatory behavior. Likewise, anyone who believes in heteronormativity should not be described as let alone accused of being discriminatory – unless they discriminate against a Trans person (etc.) contrary to the law[xx].
Trans children and young people (who fit the gender reassignment protected characteristic under Equality Act and have taken ‘steps to live in the opposite gender’) should in no wise be taught, nor permitted or encouraged to believe that people of religious belief may automatically be assumed to pose a threat to them, their sense of identity or even “existence” as is sometimes claimed. Such a view or suggestion could be construed a form of vilification against people of religious belief, especially when it is meant deliberately to disparage or derogate a particular religion or its adherents[xxi]. In schools particularly this should be deliberately avoided.
None of the core dogmatic teachings of any of the worldwide religions teach nor advocate hostility towards Trans people. There are some religious believers who are supportive or indeed actively affirming of Trans people (who fit the gender reassignment protected characteristic under Equality Act and have taken ‘steps to live in the opposite gender’) and there are Trans people themselves who are religious believers[xxii]. A difference should be made clear between the actual beliefs of a religion i.e. official doctrines, and the different ways in which a religion may be practiced or culturally realized by adherents. Even among adherents of any one religion, there can be wide variance in doctrinal interpretation and application.
When discussing religious beliefs in schools, it is best to avoid generalized assumptions about perspectives, beliefs, and practices[xxiii]. However, common to all the world religions is a strong sense of altruism and a prescriptive desire “to seek the good of the other”. While some individuals or groups of religious believers may indeed need to conform their behavior and attitudes to the requirements of the law in respect of the treatment of others, their negative example should not be presented as a stereotype nor generalization of any religion nor of all religious believers.
- All protected categories of the Equality Act 2010 referred to in the Toolkit should be recognized, affirmed, and supported in the Toolkit without negating nor prejudicing any element of the defining characteristics and rights it protects, including religious belief and biological sex. The Toolkit would benefit from careful re-editing to ensure that Trans rights are not weighted nor presented prejudicially over other protected categories and characteristics.
- Suggestions regarding the use of language should not obscure nor obfuscate the actual words used in legal and legislative texts, but clear explanations should be provided that all pupils, including Trans children and young people (who fit the gender reassignment protected characteristic under Equality Act and have taken ‘steps to live in the opposite gender’) may unequivocally understand their own and each other’s rights and responsibilities under the law.
- The Toolkit should seek to provide the tools necessary for Trans children and young people (who fit the gender reassignment protected characteristic under Equality Act and have taken ‘steps to live in the opposite gender’) to attain emotional resilience without imparting negative connotations of alternative perspectives they may encounter in reasonable discourse about issues that affect other pupils but which they may find themselves difficult to appreciate e.g. health issues specific to biological sex, or religious beliefs. This should include an appreciation of words and terminologies that similarly they may not prefer but which are commonly used objectively e.g. in science, without intending harm and should not be taken to imply nor infer harmful intent.
- The Toolkit would benefit from a section affirming that heteronormativity should not be negatively portrayed nor stereotyped, but recognized an equally valid form of relationship, self-identity and expression when doing so is not harmful nor discriminatory toward others. As a term, heteronormativity accurately describes a type of relational behavior many children will recognize of themselves, their parents, grandparents, and other heterosexual couples they know. It would be a shame for children to develop negative connotations about a form of relationship that for the majority of them, including Trans children and young people (who fit the gender reassignment protected characteristic under Equality Act and have taken ‘steps to live in the opposite gender’) forms the basis of their family, enabled their very existence and which many are likely themselves to realize sooner or later in their lives.
The Toolkit makes no mention of “desistance”[xxiv] and I wonder if even briefly it should, especially as overall research suggests that 60–90%[xxv] of Trans children and young people (who fit the gender reassignment protected characteristic under Equality Act and have taken ‘steps to live in the opposite gender’) will desist and revert to heteronormativity or homosexuality[xxvi]? I appreciate this is a controversial topic within Trans related research, but it would seem pertinent if teachers are in fact likely to support desisting or de-transitioning children. It ought at least to be flagged.
Likewise, with the sometimes considerably higher rate of clinically significant psychopathology, psychiatric comorbidity, depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicide ideation[xxvii] among Trans children and young people (who fit the gender reassignment protected characteristic under Equality Act and have taken ‘steps to live in the opposite gender’), I’m surprised that no mention is made whatsoever in the Toolkit of available help specifically for these issues, if only for awareness[xxviii] and provide signposts should issues arise?
I perceived a slight imbalance in the overall tone and presentation of the text toward Trans ideologies that are not yet widely regarded as evidenced nor accepted. The social cognitive/constructivist theories of gender continue to be contested and there is a growing consensus that a bio-psycho-social[xxix] approach[xxx] is more accurate and productive in understanding gender variation and dysphoria. Likewise, the issue of language need not be so emphasized as to make it potentially awkward for non-Trans people to communicate easily and sensitively with Trans children and young people (who fit the gender reassignment protected characteristic under Equality Act and have taken ‘steps to live in the opposite gender’) and vice versa, nor permit other protected categories to be denied consideration and affirmation.
It cannot be denied and it is somewhat regrettable that after so many years in advancing the rights of LGBTQ people, the notion of a Trans Toolkit for schools should still be a source of much controversy for so many in our society. I make this observation as a conservative Christian and Faith leader very much committed to ensuring that everyone in our society is both respected, valued and supported and that the recognized fundamental human rights of all citizens are protected and served.
I do not see an immediate conflict between the values society holds regarding human rights, and the religious beliefs and principles I hold to as a committed Christian and person of Faith. But this is primarily because I am engaged in and try to facilitate others to engage in constructive discussions across all sectors of our communities to overcome suspicion and distrust and to combat prejudice and ignorance. The opportunity to view, discuss and comment on this Trans Toolkit has enabled me to review for myself the text and source materials and contribute feedback to assist and hopefully improve the final text.
I would like to thank the authors of the text for their efforts and obvious concern to facilitate a supportive and compassionate environment for Trans children and young people (who fit the gender reassignment protected characteristic under Equality Act and have taken ‘steps to live in the opposite gender’) in our local schools. The recommendations and observations I have made above, are offered in a like spirit and desire to minimize the likelihood of negative experiences and maximize the positive opportunities the Toolkit should help provide.
[i] Signed on November 18th 2018 together with Councilor Daniel Yates, Leader of Brighton & Hove City Council and the Rt Rev’d Richard Jackson, Bishop of Lewes during the Celebrating Faith Event at Hove Town Hall witnessed by the Rt Honorable Stephen Timms MP, Chair of the All-party Parliamentary Group Faith and Society.
[ii] National Union of Students Wales and of the United Kingdom respectively, campaigning nationally to improve the lives of students and delivering tangible impact for the student movement.
[iii] Public & Commercial Services Union the UK’s largest civil service trade union.
[ix] Global education monitoring report gender review 2018: Meeting our commitments to gender equality in education https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000261593
[xi] Equality and Human Rights Commission https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/advice-and-guidance/commonly-used-terms-equal-rights
[xxx] Vries, Annelou & Kreukels, Baudewijntje & Steensma, Thomas & Mcguire, Jenifer. (2014). Gender Identity Development: A Biopsychosocial Perspective. 10.1007/978-1-4614-7441-8_3.