Diversity Mel, Pop ‘n’ Olly and the targeting of primary school children

Diversity Mel

by Shelley Charlesworth

From Unicef, the global charity with a budget of over $7billion, to the single trader offering inclusive LGBT+ training, the same narratives and policies about ‘trans’ children are being spread in schools using resources which are in breach of government guidelines.

Diversity Mel, an LBGT+ training provider in Dorset, is representative of this circular exchange. It’s run by Mel Lane, a former primary school teacher who appears to be the only person on the books. Her website says that she has worked with 35 schools and 4000 pupils across the county.

Unicef’s Rights Respecting Schools Award

Her link to Unicef is as a Rights Respecting Schools Assessor. This award scheme is based on the UN’s Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which schools sign up “to embed children’s human rights in their ethos and culture” after which they are a “Rights Respecting School.” The Articles in the Convention are universalist in language and do not mention sexual orientation or gender identity. Nearly 5000 schools are currently working towards becoming Rights Respecting.  

As part of the scheme, Unicef UK has partnered with Stonewall’s School Champions scheme to produce a resource for schools which focuses on the inclusion of LGBT rights. The result is an unhappy marriage of Stonewall’s school policies which distort equalities legislation and the language of human rights. For example, Article 2 of the UN Convention, which says every child should be protected against discrimination, is re-interpreted in the Stonewall/Unicef UK resource as an instruction to ‘use gender-neutral language, replace head girl or boy with head student.’

This is a politicised reading of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Gender neutral policies in schools fail to consider girls and their rights as members of the female sex. In some situations, such as sports, treating girls and boys the same in effect discriminates against girls. When separate facilities are needed, girls need accurate language to describe and maintain their rights. They need to be able to talk about the girls’ teams and the girls’ achievements. 

Article 16 states children have a right to privacy. But Stonewall/Unicef UK say this means providing gender neutral toilet facilities and sensitive changing spaces, again promoting privacy for just one group at the expense of other groups, who have rights based on sex or religion/belief. Gender neutral policies mean girls cannot claim the right to privacy for themselves.

The Unicef connection gives authority to Diversity Mel training but schools should know that, in relation to LGBT rights, it is a Stonewall endorsed message.

Space Youth Project

Diversity Mel has links too to an LBGT+ youth organisation in Dorset where she is the training and education volunteer. Space Youth Project, SYP, says it uses the Mermaids’ definition of trans as an “umbrella term for those who are transgender non-binary, genderqueer, gender fluid, agender, are of non-western gender identities and those who have a trans history.“

SYP is funded in part by Children In Need, Dorset County Council, Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council and the National Lottery. The charity runs youth clubs and offers one-to-one support with a youth worker, where young people questioning their gender identity are likely to be affirmed as transgender. SYP echo the political views of Mermaids, GIRES and Gendered Intelligence, shown clearly when they greeted the High Court’s ruling in the Keira Bell case with dismay. Like Mermaids and other LGBT groups, SYP is enthusiastic about a ban on conversion therapy for gender identity.

SYP doesn’t produce much of its own material, using instead policies and factsheets from other organisations. Parents with trans identifying children who attend SYP activities will be given advice from Gendered Intelligence. That advice is to affirm, validate and support. No other evidence, such as the greater likelihood of their child is gay, or the experimental nature of social affirmation, or the long-term health effects of medical transition is offered.

The links to resources such as Mermaids and Gendered Intelligence are not immediately obvious on SYP’s website.  It’s not known whether funders such as Dorset County Council or users are aware that their local LGBT youth group is signed up to groups who advocate for no lower age limit for puberty blockers or sex education which states that “a man is still a man even if he likes getting penetrated vaginally.” SYP’s beliefs on the social and medical transition of children are in line with the most extreme gender ideologists.

Pop’n’Olly

In addition to her work with SYP, Mel Lane is also education consultant and content creator for Pop’n’Olly where she works “collaboratively with children’s author Olly Pike, to develop LGBT+ inclusive resources for teachers, including lesson ideas, posters and worksheets related to Olly’s books.” Pike’s work targets primary school children in particular. Although a grown man in his mid-thirties, he cultivates a childlike image, wearing a set of cat ears, either as a character in his books and in real life.

These resources often appear on LGBT inclusive educational lists, such as No Outsiders, Mermaids, and Educate & Celebrate. Two titles from the Pop’n’Olly range are recommended for primary schools by the main teaching union in the UK, the NEU. Prince Henry is about gay marriage and Jamie is a retelling of the Cinderella story in which Jamie, a same-sex attracted girl, realises that she is really a boy, “whose true gender identity reveals itself,” after cutting her hair and putting on a suit.

In 2021 Mel Lane co-wrote a booklet with Olly Pike for use in primary schools, What Does LGBT+ Mean? It contains all the LGBT activist articles of faith: assigned sex, choose your own pronouns, gender is a feeling, transgender is when a person feels their body does not “match up” with their gender. Non-binary is something that is different for everyone and it’s not possible to tell if someone is non-binary anyway. And that person could also be transgender or not. Primary pupils will learn that people can have aromantic, asexual, pansexual, bisexual, gender-queer or intersex identities, each with its own flag. For more information, there’s a link to Mermaids.

Pop’n’Olly materials are in breach of the 2020 DfE guidelines  which state that resources must be age-appropriate and evidence based. Schools are told not to use providers who suggest being gender non-conforming means having a different ‘gender identity.’ What Does LGBT+ Mean? and Jamie both breach this advice.

Diversity Mel Inclusive Education

Schools who pay for Diversity Mel training should be aware that much of her material comes from other providers: Stonewall, Equaliteach, Mermaids, Allsorts and a US based website https://www.genderinclusivebiology.com Most can be found on her webpage page titled Guidance and Advice for Teachers. 

However, the factsheet Advice on Supporting a Child to Socially Transition in School appears to be written by Mel Lane herself. She advises teachers that they have a ‘legal duty’ to socially affirm. It says “Don’t put the transition off any longer than you have to; the child will be eager to live as they identify” and tells teachers to ask a child “Would you like me to help you make a plan for moving forward eg if you want to socially transition in school?” The rest of the school is advised to fall into line: “Do correct children and staff who use the wrong name/pronoun.”

Staff must “make arrangements regarding toilets and changing for PE. Does the child want to use toilets for their preferred identity? Do they need a gender-neutral toilet?”

Other parents in the school are not to be told about the transitioning child: “The head should inform teaching staff, but not the parents.” The school must “celebrate how brave and amazing this child is and how in touch they are with their own identity.”

This is misleading and potentially harmful advice. Teachers are not qualified to make judgements on such life-changing decisions. Gender dysphoria is a rare psychological condition in children which only medically trained professionals are able to diagnose and treat. Social transitioning, which is what Diversity Mel advocates, is an experimental approach to children with gender distress and is not recommended by professionals in this field. Clinicians in the US, Sweden, Finland and Australia have recently revised their approaches and advise being more cautious in prescribing hormone treatments to children and young people. There are a growing number of detransitioners, many of whom say they were affirmed too readily in their trans identities.

Diversity Mel recommends teachers and parents contact the trans charity Mermaids if they want more information and support. Mermaids does not follow best guidance, from the NHS and NICE, on the treatment of children with gender dysphoria. Instead it promotes the unscientific idea of an ‘innate gender identity.’ It advocates the use of experimental drug treatments such as puberty blockers for children with no lower age limit. 

Her LGBT+ language guide includes two terms that are more instruction than definition: “binding, the process of wrapping the chest in order for it to appear flat. Usually with a specially designed undergarment (a binder) as this is the safest method.” And “tucking, the process of hiding the crotch safely done with specifically designed undergarments.” Both practises are harmful, physically and mentally and it’s concerning that a former primary school teacher suggests it can be done safely.

The language guide for biology is dehumanising. Instead of saying “when the Mum gives birth” teachers should say “when the baby exits the womb.” Instead of “mum” say “birth parent or carrier.” Instead of saying “women produce eggs” say “ovaries produce eggs.” Instead of saying “men should check their testicles” say “testicle-having people should check them.”

All the words for the biological categories men and women, girls and boys, have been removed; without naming the two sexes, body parts are unmoored and seemingly random. Taking these materials into schools breaches DfE guidelines which says schools must use resources which are “evidence-based and contain robust facts and statistics”. They do not teach biology but promote unscientific terms in the service of adult sexualities and identities.

Diversity Mel’s training is marketed as “inclusive” But it’s a narrow form of inclusion, focusing heavily on transgender themes. She offers workshops on individual books. For primary years 3 – 6, that’s ages 7-11, the book is a transgender story written for children. In the notes for each book Mel Lane stresses that children should be told that being transgender isn’t a sudden thing but something one thinks about for a long time. It undoubtedly must feel like a long time for the children listening, for by the end of primary school, over half their school life to date, they will have been taught that what their body is may have nothing to do with whether they are a boy or a girl.

Year 3s are read Phoenix Goes to School. This is based on a true story which will lend it spurious authority in the minds of seven-year-olds. The notes say that the same thing can happen to other people, something that will cause children confusion or distress if they should err from the path of sex stereotypical conformity. Phoenix wants to be “accepted as a girl even though her body suggests she is a boy.”

The following year group will read a similar story. I’m Not A Girl is about Hannah who knows she’s a boy and is introduced to the word transgender. Children will be told it is another true story. She wishes, in language borrowed from adult LGBT campaigning, “that everyone saw the real me.” Unsurprisingly Hannah’s real self is all about clothes and haircuts.

Introducing Teddy is the year 5 book. This time it’s a teddy bear who transitions from male to female. He changes his name from Thomas to Tilly and his bow tie for a bow in his hair. The children who are his friends automatically accept his sex change and his fears of rejection are unfounded. 

Year 6 is told the story of Max, yet another pre-pubertal child who “knows” she is a boy. The notes to Call Me Max say Max is a “boy, even though his body looks like he is a girl.” The author of this book transitioned as an adult from female to male so this book is a form of autobiographical wish fulfilment.

These books and the way Mel Lane teaches them breach the DfE’s 2020 guidelines about factual content in fundamental ways. They are taught as facts about bodies. Children are told that the experiences of Max, Hannah and Phoenix also happen in the real world, that they are true stories, that the characters are the sex they feel they are and that everyone else will go along with this delusion too.

The first four books on the suggested reading for secondary pupils continue the transgender theme. They are What the T, by Juno Dawson, This Book is Gay, also by Dawson, Trans Mission – My Quest To [sic] a Beard, by Alex Bertie and The Trans Teen Survival Guide, by Owl and Fox Fisher. These books will all echo the same messages that Mel Lane gives teachers, that some children are born “wrong” and need to change their bodies to “match-up” with their gender identities, that language must be changed and policed to fit these ideas, and that it is transphobic to question any of it.

Diversity Mel training in policy areas relies heavily on the Allsorts Trans Inclusion Toolkit 2021. This toolkit rests on the assumption that if a child says he or she is trans then there is no need to question that belief. In the section on socially transitioning a child teachers are instructed on pronoun use, uniforms, access to toilets and sports facilities. In all cases the ‘trans’ child’s choice is to be respected; anything problematic must be decided on a case by case basis.

Much of this advice has been challenged or shown to be wrong. Both Allsorts and Mel Lane completely ignore the social context in which trans gender identities are being expressed. No mention is made of the unprecedented rise in the number of teenage girls believing they are boys, of the higher rates of autism and eating disorders, anxiety or depression among this cohort. No mention is made of the greater number of children in care declaring themselves ‘trans.’ Without this information no school should be making decisions about this vulnerable group of children or giving them the diagnosis of ‘transgender.’

Head teachers could find themselves on the wrong side of the Equality Act 2010 and open to legal challenge if they listen to organisations that promote gender reassignment over and above the other protected characteristics. It is possible to find a way of balancing competing rights. But resources from Diversity Mel, Stonewall, Allsorts, Mermaids, Pop’n’Olly or Unicef will not be part of the solution.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Isabella Stevenson

    TT – THANK YOU so much for all your good work. I need to say that this piece is an unfair and inaccurate tainting of UNICEF, the United Nations children’s development agency. The UN does not operate or spend money in developed countries. The UK government is a donor, not a recipient of UN money. WHAT you should be talking about is the local committee set up by Brits to collect funds in the name of UNICEF. They are supposed to spend this money in support of the UN’s goals which have been agreed to by all governments. The UN has made no intergovernmental decisions about transgender ideology nor does it formally support the spread of transgender beliefs. To do this ‘work’ in the UK is a decision made by UNICEF UK for what ever internal political reason. That is good news, presumably, because a local/national organisation will be easier to influence than the international body. I hope Transgender Trends meets with the UK national committee of UNICEF very soon. Cheers, Isabella.

    1. Transgender Trend

      Thank you, we have amended the piece to clarify that we refer to UNICEF UK. However, we note with concern that the UNESCO guidance on sexuality education, endorsed by UNICEF, includes a section on gender which advises, as a learning objective, that children should ‘acknowledge that everyone has a gender identity.’ https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000260770/PDF/260770eng.pdf.multi

  2. John

    Please see p.29 from this UNICEF rights respecting schools resource for those working with *children under 12 years old*
    https://www.unicef.org.uk/rights-respecting-schools/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2019/09/Outrightpack2019_v9.pdf

    It presents 12-year old “drag-kid” Desmond Napoles as some kind of hero, instead of the victim of child abuse.

    Sourced from 2019/20 at https://www.unicef.org.uk/rights-respecting-schools/resources/teaching-resources/outright/outright-archive/

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