Debbie Hayton

Scotland’s transgender guidance is a safeguarding nightmare

Scotland’s transgender guidance is a safeguarding nightmare
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On Thursday, teachers planning residential trips were told that it may be just fine for teenagers of the opposite sex to share a room. 

In 25 years of teaching, I have seen many daft ideas trickle down from government, but the Scottish government’s latest guidance, ‘Supporting Transgender Pupils In Schools’, takes the biscuit. Of course it promotes affirmation of transgender identities. This is Scotland, after all, where Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP seems to be in thrall to transgender ideology. The party previously enacted legislation that talked about people ‘becoming female’. But while that law took liberties with the rights of women, this latest guidance impacts the safeguarding of children.

Astonishingly, the reference in the document to residential trips is headed, ‘Good Practice’ and says:

‘If a transgender young person wants to share a room with other young people who share their gender identity, they should be able to do so, as long as the rights of all those involved are considered and respected.’

This isn’t a total carte blanche when it comes to allowing children of the opposite sex to share a room, as one or more of the children needs to identify as transgender. But because the ‘trans umbrella’ also includes non-binary people there is no real barrier to entry. For teachers struggling to keep up with the jargon, the guidance defines non-binary as, ‘People who do not identify exclusively as a boy or as a girl.’ I’d suggest that could cover just about anyone; I certainly can’t imagine it being much of a hurdle to teenagers who fancy a night with the opposite sex.

I do not mean to trivialise the difficulties children face. Not only am I am a teacher, I am transgender and can empathise with young people struggling with gender dysphoria. But all children need to feel safe and secure. That requires boundaries and policy grounded in facts and reality. Whatever fantasy transgender ideologues might be pushing, two truths stare us in the face. Firstly, everyone has an immutable biological sex that is observable at birth. And secondly, some people find it hard to relate to their bodies and the expectations that come with them.

Good policy arises when both truths are respected. So, when we need to segregate children – for example in toilets, changing rooms and sleeping accommodation – we must do it by sex. Everyone can then feel secure in the knowledge that there should be no surprises. Additional provision can then be provided for anyone who prefers not to share with their own sex. When there is no need to segregate by sex, sexist restrictions can be set aside. Dress codes, for example, can be genuinely inclusive; let all children choose from the same uniform list. The sky will not fall in if a boy wants to wear a skirt.

The Scottish government guidance does include such sound advice. It suggests schools should ‘allow all young people to wear the school uniform they feel most comfortable in’. When it comes to changing rooms and toilets, ‘providing a gender-neutral space or accessible toilet can be the best alternative.’

Never mind ‘can be’, that is the best approach to take with any children who don’t like communal arrangements. But rather than stop there, the authors begin to impose their own ideology. They are committed to the concept of gender identity, and from there they promote the idea that there are special groups of people, separate from the mere muggles.

Revelation, we are told, can come early in life:

‘Some young people are exploring their gender identity in primary school settings.

If a young person in the school says that they now want to live as a boy although their sex assigned at birth was female, or they now want to live as a girl, although their sex assigned at birth was male, it is important to provide support and listen to what they are saying.’

Teachers are instructed to not only listen, but also believe:

‘If others deny this, it may have a detrimental impact on the young person’s wellbeing, relationships and behaviour.’

Reports elsewhere suggested that children as young as four could be able to change their name and gender at school in Scotland without their parents’ consent. And teachers are told that, ‘if a young person comes out as transgender there is no immediate need to inform their parents’ meaning the child’s mother and father might not even know what is happening.

The authors appeal to emotion, and fear of the law.

‘A transgender young person may not have told their family about their gender identity. Inadvertent disclosure could cause needless stress for the young person or could put them at risk and breach legal requirements. Therefore, it is best to not share information with parents or carers without considering and respecting the young person’s views and rights.’

If my child was in this position I would want to know what they are going through and I would argue that I needed to know. But I fear that the Scottish government is suggesting that schools can say to children, ‘Don't worry, this will be our secret. Your mum and dad don't need to know.’ That is not only chilling, it could potentially be a safeguarding catastrophe.

Teachers must not be put in such an invidious position. Rather, they need to promote the truth. Gender dysphoria in children requires treatment from specialist medical practitioners following evidenced best practice. This involves watchful waiting and talk therapy, with parents and carers included at every stage. But gender dysphoria is also rare. Most children need to be left to grow up, not have a gender identity imposed on them – certainly not one that might lead to real physical harm. 

Slipped into the guidance, for example, is a comment about breast binders – used by some girls who identify as trans boys. It says:

‘Binders can lead to shortness of breath, can be painful during physical exertion and there are health risks associated with wearing binders that are too tight.’

Inexplicably, the guidance continues:

‘Binders can, however, have a positive impact on a young person's mental health so staff should allow a young person to decide for themselves about whether or not to wear a binder, to help them join in. Some transgender young people may be willing to wear a looser binder than usual during PE.’

Parts of this guidance appear to be ideologically driven. I hope that my colleagues north of the border can find the courage to throw it straight into the bin. It is not statutory yet, though I can already anticipate the social pressures on schools that do not get with the programme. But when the safeguarding of their pupils is at stake, teachers need to do what their government has failed to do. They must resist.