50.50: Opinion

‘I told my daughter’s school she was trans. Their reaction was amazing’

An affirming parent shares how inclusive schools have supported her trans daughter

25 August 2022, 10.55am

Jo’s school had an empathic, human response to accommodating a trans pupil


NorthScape / Alamy Stock Photo

It took a few months before we plucked up the courage to say anything at school.

We were attending a parents’ evening at a primary school in Lincolnshire. The teacher asked whether there was anything else we wanted to discuss and my child nudged me and told me to “say it”.

I explained that they wanted to come to school wearing the girls’ uniform.

The teacher responded in the best possible way and said that, of course, Jo* could dress any way they wanted. My child’s response will always stay with me; they burst into tears.

Get our free Daily Email

Get one whole story, direct to your inbox every weekday.

We left the meeting with a way forward and, after a few weeks spent worrying whether it was the right thing to do, we made an appointment to speak with the primary school’s headteacher.

He also reacted in the best way possible and said that Jo could begin wearing the girls’ uniform from the very next day, if they wanted to. We went straight to Asda and had a fun time trying on clothes. It was an amazing confidence boost for them.

The following day, we drove to Jo’s primary school and sat in the car, holding hands. We both felt sick. “We can do this,” we said, then walked into the school. It was a really pivotal moment.

Accommodating a trans pupil was completely new to Jo’s primary school, but they had an empathic, human response to it, and did everything they could to make the process as easy as possible. They looked into ‘best practice’ in the education sector and wrote a policy that they let me look at and feed into. This made it easier for us, as parents, as we were less confident at that time about what we should be doing, or how to handle other people’s reactions.

To have that affirming approach from the school right away meant that we didn't have to worry as much about how accepted our child would be. At that stage, she was still using her old name and pronouns and we were open-minded about whether she was trans or not. It was simply a uniform change she wanted, and to use the girls’ toilets. She was exploring her gender identity in her own way, in her own time, which is how it should be.

Once she realised she would be accepted by her teachers and peers, things moved quickly. She decided on her new name and was more confident about being “just like any other girl”. The school facilitated all the changes, and she was able to carry on with her education as normal.

To have that affirming approach from the school right away meant that we didn’t have to worry as much about how accepted our child would be

The school was really supportive. At the start, some parents and school governors did push back, but the headteacher dealt with it and didn’t involve us very much. Whenever there was pushback from other kids, they were spoken to straight away.

When it came time to choose a secondary school, we were lucky that our older daughter, who is cis, was already attending a school with a strong, supportive LGBTQ+ lead. He had advocated for LGBTQ+ rights at NHS conferences and won awards for an LGBTQ+ club that he runs. I emailed him before Jo started at the school, to ask what trans-inclusion measures were in place, and she began in year 7 just like any other new pupil.

Jo’s secondary school includes LGBTQ+ education in the curriculum and facilitates access to toilets, changing facilities and sports teams that match each child’s gender, so there is no problem at all with her getting on with her education. Quite a few children know about her trans status, though she doesn’t go to the LGBTQ+ group because she doesn't want to ‘stand out’ or be outed.

Kids can be bullies and, since starting secondary school, Jo has had some challenges. Fortunately, her head of year has LGBTQ+ and trans-positive posters in her office, so that pupils know she is supportive and a safe person to confide in. Whenever Jo experiences bullying because of her trans status, she knows that teachers will intervene. It’s taken very seriously and bullies are spoken to swiftly.

As an affirming parent, I haven’t experienced direct pushback from other secondary school parents. I think that’s because they know the school is supportive of LGBTQ+ identities. I’ve heard parents’ homophobic and transphobic comments via their children, however, and it does make me fearful for my daughter's safety and for children who would like to be themselves but don't feel accepted by their families.

When a ‘concerned’ parent approached the school’s headteacher to say she wasn’t happy with her daughter having to share a toilet with my child, the headteacher said: “That’s no problem – we’re happy to find alternative toilet arrangements for your daughter.” A few weeks later, that same parent confided to me that she was the one who had raised concerns, but that she’d had a change of heart and was going to try to be more understanding. This meant a lot to me and my child.

It's really scary to think that there are teachers and parents out there hearing Suella Braverman’s anti-trans comments, and seeing the scaremongering and unfounded fears around trans-inclusion practices. Every day the public are confronted by articles that proactively skew the facts around every aspect of trans people’s lives.

We have a government that is actively trying to roll back basic rights and reinterpret the Equality Act to exclude protections for trans and non-binary people. A small number of obsessed anti-trans organisations are trying to infiltrate the social and political spheres, and they are backed by some pretty powerful people, both economically and culturally.

I’m fearful but I’m also hopeful because I know that most people, if educated, will understand what it means to be trans and will accept my daughter for who she is. Jo’s school has trans-inclusive policies in place and is seeing first-hand how important it is to support trans children with an affirming approach. I am confident people will understand Braverman’s speech to be ridiculous. However, I have friends who have trans children in unsupportive schools, and those are the kids I am worried about.

Schools most certainly don’t have a duty to out trans students to their families, as Braverman suggested in her speech. The only reason a child would be keeping it quiet and confiding in a teacher would be if they didn’t feel able to tell their parents. Parents don’t have ‘a right to know’. School should be a safe space for all children.

Braverman’s speech is so damaging to those whose children are questioning their gender identity

Teachers, schools and parents should seek guidance from trans-positive organisations that know what they’re talking about. Years ago, when Jo, who’s now 13, first began exploring her gender identity, we approached Mermaids for support. Its staff gave us the best advice. “Just listen to your child, and take it at their own pace,” they told me.

There’s no need to panic about a child exploring their identity. They are simply who they are. They’ll figure it out, if they are supported and listened to, loved and respected.

I still can't believe that some parents would not affirm their trans child. It can be a hard journey to navigate, for fear of doing the wrong thing, and parents may feel as if they have nowhere to turn. Braverman’s speech is so damaging to those whose children are questioning their gender identity.

But with the right support, I believe the majority of parents will find a natural way forward, because they love their child and love is the basis for affirming and supporting our trans kids.

Related story

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

* This person’s name has been changed to protect their identity

Additional guidance and resources for inclusive schools are available from Stonewall, Gendered Intelligence and Mermaids, who recommend this guide by Brighton & Hove City Council.

Ukrainian journalists share their stories of war

Hear Igor Burdyga and Kateryna Semchuk explain what it's like working in a homeland under threat. Plus British author Oliver Bullough and chair Daniel Trilling.

We've got a newsletter for everyone

Whatever you're interested in, there's a free openDemocracy newsletter for you.

Get 50.50 emails Gender and social justice, in your inbox. Sign up to receive openDemocracy 50.50's monthly email newsletter.
Audio available Bookmark Check Language Close Comments Download Facebook Link Email Newsletter Newsletter Play Print Share Twitter Youtube Search Instagram WhatsApp yourData