A Kent school has been forced to change its toilet and changing-room policies after an 18 year-old transgender student, previously known as Liam and now called Lily, hired a solicitor who threatened the school with legal action if they did not comply with the Equality Act 2010 by allowing Lily to “be treated as a female student.”
This case raises important issues for all children and adolescents at school, as well as the teaching staff; issues that are not addressed in the Huffington Post report of the case (and in fact are never reported in any similar cases throughout the news media). The problems in this case are so obvious that it must take an effort of willful blindness to ignore them.
In an institution of education, we are expecting adolescents to suddenly forget their knowledge of male and female biological sex and believe that a male is female (and a female can be male) and therefore these categories are meaningless. This is a massive ask which puts all students in a position of having to ignore that sex exists and pretend that it doesn’t, in order not to hurt the feelings of one student. In the protection of trans rights, we haven’t stopped to consider the effects of cognitive dissonance when children in schools are expected to do this, or the practical day-to-day impact of these policies on other children.
Of course transgender students should not be discriminated against and of course schools should be quick to stop any bullying. It goes without saying that efforts should be made to accommodate the needs of every student. But there is a problem when one student’s needs supersede all others and especially when those needs involve everyone else redefining themselves in order to accommodate one student’s self-identity as truth. If Lily is a girl, then girls can no longer define themselves as the female sex but must accept that it is not their female bodies which make them girls, but their “identity.” Girls cannot be both a biological sex and an identity, it has to be one or the other because “identity” by definition erases biology.
The “transgender girl” becomes the only correctly-defined girl, the real girl, the one defined by identity and not sex. In order not to be transphobic we have to say that Lily’s male body is a female body.
So when we talk about transgender rights being about “equality for all” that’s not really true; this is an unprecedented situation for schools which demands a change in established meanings of words and everyone else’s complicity in using the new definitions, whether they agree with them or not. Issues around honesty, integrity, deception and manipulation are raised but can’t be explored or discussed: anything other than “Lily is a girl” is transphobic.
There are themes in this story which are common to many of these school stories and there are issues touched on which merit far more thought and investigation if a school is to fulfill its duty of care to all pupils, including those who identify as transgender.
First is the role of the transgender child as campaigner, mouthpiece and poster child for trans activism; it is very common for these young people to see themselves as pioneers in furthering a political cause:
“Coming out as transgender is very scary, but looking back it shouldn’t have been and that’s why I’m doing all this. I want people to know that it’s okay and we have the rights we have for a reason”
“To other transgender students I would say: keep fighting your corner, you deserve equality. Don’t let it get you down.”
We are told that Lily has now started a student group at school “to give younger people someone to look up to.” The role of campaigner is becoming an integral part of the transgender identity: these kids know their rights (in this case, finding a sympathetic solicitor despite lack of support from both school and family) but at what personal cost? To serve a cause orchestrated by adults is a seductive role which takes a young person’s locus of awareness and responsibility outside the self and provides the rewards of attention and status so craved by adolescents.
How healthy for a young person is the resultant inflation of entitlement when you are given the power to change the whole school to fit your sense of identity and you are feted by the media for doing so? Young people are not yet equipped with the tools to separate out these issues and see clearly what is happening, which is why young people are so vulnerable to exploitation by adults. Those suffering the real distress of “gender dysphoria” are being swept up in a movement rather than being given the space to work out their issues in private with appropriate support from adults with no agenda.
“Outraged fellow students” are inevitably also susceptible to a social justice cause, taking action on Lily’s behalf by starting a petition. One wonders where these students sourced their information for this sensationalist and wholly untrue claim to support their case:
“There have been zero reported crimes by a trans person in any bathroom ever. In comparison hundreds of thousands of trans people have had a crime committed against them in bathrooms (assault, murder) including in schools and especially when trans people are made to use their biological sexes bathroom.”
The Huffington Post reports: “The petition received more than 200 signatures, with many students expressing their anger towards St Simon’s” but on closer inspection the signatories come from all over the world, including many ex-pupils of the school – adults, in other words. So we don’t know the actual number of pupils who supported Lily, although there will obviously be some, especially if they have been sold false information such as that above, and also because of the peer pressure which characterises the adolescent years. Who would want to be “the transphobic one” who doesn’t sign the petition?
The other striking theme common to these stories is that the power given to a transgender child to change policies, so that everyone is obliged to show care and sensitivity towards them, is matched only by the breathtaking lack of sensitivity towards anybody else who is caused suffering in the process.
No-one need care about the siblings and the distress they suffer when a brother turns into a “sister” and they are expected to not only believe and accept it, but celebrate their sibling’s bravery like everyone else. In this particular case, the school was also concerned with the mental health of Lily’s younger sister:
“The member of staff was counselling Lily with her mother and younger sister, who is in our year 10. The younger sister was very upset about Lily coming out and the member of staff was trying to help with our key stage five pastoral manager.”
Will Lily’s sister be given proper counselling or just re-education once the teaching staff have taken their transgender training?
All children are affected by these policies; all children have the right to bodily privacy, dignity and comfort in toilets and changing rooms and boys too will suffer embarrassment and humiliation if a female catches them at the urinals. Single-sex facilities are there for a reason. But this particular male-to-transgender case highlights both that it’s girls who are put into a particularly vulnerable situation by the school’s new policy, together with the fact that they are completely invisible to the media. Nobody it seems is even prepared to notice that girls are losing established sex-based protections.
A spokesman for the school said:
‘We value highly the views of all our students, and take all points of view into account as we develop. We are confident that the attention we have given to transgender, including carefully listening to students, has been invaluable in us going even further to make sure all students are happy and comfortable, so that they can be as successful as possible.’
The issue of single-sex facilities should not be influenced by the views of the students themselves, because those views have been shaped by the media and by activists and nobody would dare speak up against them. Girls have no idea of the impact of losing their right to single-sex facilities because nobody is talking about it. They have not been fully informed in order to make their judgments, they have already been relentlessly exposed to only one side of the argument.
Girls will feel uncomfortable or threatened by Lily sharing their toilet or changing room not because Lily is transgender but because Lily is male. But as they are not allowed to recognise Lily’s maleness, the only possible reason left for any discomfort is “transphobia.” Girls will therefore not admit to their feelings, perhaps even to themselves, they will just feel stressed about going to the toilet, and perhaps give up sport if it means getting changed in front of a male. This is not “prudery” but a basic need for privacy.
Schools are in a bind because of their legal obligations under the Equality Act and Public Sector Equality Duty to protect transgender students, but they also have a legal duty to protect girls as a sex-based protected category. If girls lose the right to set their boundaries, to say “no” to males coming into their spaces, new legislation takes away protection of a legally protected category of people who are already the most discriminated against and abused in schools.
The idea that a transsexual person is actually “born in the wrong body” is very recent, as is the practice of diagnosing children and adolescents as transsexual. The idea has spread like wildfire throughout the media as “truth” so every school can expect to have to deal with this issue at some point, as more and more children self-diagnose as transgender.
Schools will play a big part in fostering this experiment on children and need to think carefully about policies. The role of schools is crucial if we are to open up a space where “gender non-conforming” children and adolescents can exist peacefully without having to go to the extreme of medically altering their bodies and taking synthetic hormones for life in order to be able to do so.
We are building a Schools Toolkit and will be continually adding resources to our new Schools page. An introductory document “Creating a Welcoming School for “Gender Non-Conforming” Pupils” is available there to download now.