50.50: Analysis

Stop using our kids to justify transphobia, say parents of cis children

Dozens of parent allies say attorney general’s comments ‘embolden cruel bullying’ and could harm all pupils

Lou Ferreira 2022.jpg
Lou Ferreira
23 August 2022, 9.22am
Attorney general Suella Braverman | Mark Thomas / Alamy Stock Photo

Dozens of parents of cisgender children have criticised attorney general Suella Braverman for anti-trans comments that they say will make school harder for both trans and cis kids.

In an open letter, shared with openDemocracy, the group of parent allies rejected claims that schools who support trans pupils could be acting at odds with the interests of cis peers.

Trans hostility harms all students, trans or not, the letter said, and all children and young people stand to benefit from trans-inclusive practices.

Braverman claimed in her speech, at the Policy Exchange think tank on 10 August, that it is lawful for schools to deadname and misgender trans pupils, and prevent them from accessing toilets, sports teams and dormitories, or wearing uniforms, that match their gender.

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“This will cause distress to trans children,” the parents wrote. “Neither we nor our children want any part in it.”

Trans advocates and legal experts moved to reassure students, parents and teachers that Braverman’s comments are not legally binding on schools, and that trans students remain protected under the Equality Act 2010. But affirming parents and teachers shared fears that Braverman’s message might fuel anti-trans hostility and deter schools and families from supporting trans kids.

Research by Cal Horton, a PhD candidate at Goldsmiths, University of London, found that teachers are often reluctant to support trans pupils (for instance, by using their correct pronouns, ensuring access to facilities that match their gender, or intervening in anti-trans bullying) due to fears of “wider community or parental opposition” or backlash from parents they presume will be “trans-antagonistic”. Without established policies on trans inclusion, teachers are likely to focus on the “perceived preferences” of trans-hostile parents, rather than the needs of trans pupils, Horton explained.

Trans positivity benefits all pupils

In her speech, Braverman argued that schools should not use trans pupils’ correct names and pronouns without parental consent, medical advice and a risk assessment that included “the impact on other children”. But the parents of cis children said in their open letter that supporting trans kids is in the best interest of all pupils, trans or not, and does not impede the wellbeing of cis students.

“We want [our children] to be safe at school and we want them to learn in an environment which is respectful, calm and fosters independent thought,” the letter said. If adopted by schools, Braverman’s suggestions would teach students that “if a person is different, they are not worthy of respect”, the parents continued, contravening values of inclusion and tolerance that kids should be learning at school.

While there is no evidence that affirming trans kids negatively impacts their cis peers, there is ample research showing that a lack of support at school causes significant harm to trans pupils. Horton found that this includes “persistent psychological stress”, which leads to low self-esteem and sense of worth.

Trans kids who experience harassment report poor mental health outcomes such as depression, self-harm and suicide ideation, as well as trouble focusing in class, lower academic motivation and outcomes, and higher rates of school absences, drop-out and transfer. In a UK survey of lesbian, gay, bi and trans young people aged 11 to 19, nearly half of trans kids taking part (45%) reported at least one suicide attempt, while 84% reported self-harm.

Braverman’s suggestions will “embolden cruel bullying” and “cause distress to trans children”, the parents wrote. “No child learns better with a distressed child sitting beside them.”

“Our basic humanity, and for some of us our religious conviction, means we must do what we can to alleviate, not exacerbate, the suffering of any child,” the letter continues. “The attorney general’s suggestions will do the opposite.”

The attorney general’s office did not respond to openDemocracy’s request for comment.

The letter

The full open letter, shared with openDemocracy on Monday, reads:

We are parents of school age children who are not transgender. We want them to be safe at school and we want them to learn in an environment which is respectful, calm and fosters independent thought.

The Attorney General, who it is reported must approve the much sought after government guidance to schools about transgender pupils, suggests our children must be free to call a trans girl “he” and a trans boy “she” without interference from teachers. She suggests also that a trans girl will generally not be permitted to use the girls’ toilets at school.

We know this will cause distress to trans children and so neither we nor our children want any part in it. No child learns better with a distressed child sitting beside them, and what are teachers to do if they know the cause of a child’s distress but are not allowed to intervene to stop it?

Our basic humanity, and for some of us our religious conviction, means we must do what we can to alleviate, not exacerbate, the suffering of any child. The Attorney General’s suggestions will do the opposite, forcing a nasty political row into the centre of our children’s classrooms. It will embolden cruel bullying, and teach our children the last thing we want them to learn at school – that if a person is different, they are not worthy of respect.

Nora Mulready, Rebecca Gowland, Dr Klara Kemp-Welch, Adrian Farrell, Lalla Merlin, Dr Katie Snape, Matt Pearce, Jo and Pete Lindsell, Audrey Bland, Nadine Fraser, Michala Morris, Josephine Moulds, Jen Flavell, Anna Crowther, Hannah Barnstaple, Nathalie McDermott, Michelle Goodall, Mary and Ruth Marvel, Alice Mulready, Sharon Russell, Laura Farmer-Maia and Tiago Maia, Margarita Lechley, Julie Shore, Joanna Reuss, Candy Horsbrugh, Simone Kessler Mystique, Lucy Morgan Newham, Robyn Haselfoot, James Flint, Molly Wright, Victoria Thomas, Liz Shaw, Sarah Samuels, Debra Darling, Joanna Thompson

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