As a non-binary woman, Rishi’s new school rules for trans pupils will threaten lives

I saw teens living on the street – the trans school guidance has to go

“This is not Section 28. It’s worse,” says London secondary school teacher, Tabitha McIntosh. “Section 28 didn’t mandate that if a 17-year-old told me they’d been thinking about their sexuality, I’d be required by law to report them to their parents. Even if they objected. Even if they begged me not to.”

The tweet comes in response to an exclusive story in The Sun revealing that the Prime Minister has banned schools from recognising a child’s preferred gender – if their parents say no.

The new rules forbid children who use different pronouns from joining in sports, say that teachers don’t have to call a child by their preferred pronouns, and headteachers must consider the mental effects on other children before approving the “gender change” of a child.

Your school years are the best years of your life, I remember being told. And I fucking hope not, I remember thinking

It wasn’t until I found a safe space at school that I felt comfortable being me / Beth Train-Brown

My school years were spent hiding in bathrooms, pretending to be sick so I could leave, and feeling so out of place that every day was a new, more exhausting battle than the last. I was angry every time I looked in the mirror. I hated my body so much. Often, I would spend an hour crying and raging at my wardrobe or school uniform because I didn’t look right – I didn’t feel like my outward appearance matched who I felt inside.

When I was as young as 13, I started seeing an NHS mental health specialist who diagnosed me with depression.

It wasn’t until much later that I started to resonate more with the term, non-binary. It means that an individual identifies with a gender other than the binary man and woman. As many critics of trans rights movements have argued, there are some “militant trans activists” who take advantage of kids struggling with their identity, as kids often do, for an us/them battle that is destroying communities. However, often, kids are not quick to identify with the label.

For me, it took a long time of research and spending time with myself to figure out that this is the label for me. The people most helpful during this time were the friends I made, of all years, who joined our secondary school’s first-ever LGBTQ+ Space. The weekly lunchtime club, run by an LGBTQ+ member of staff, became a haven to many who felt isolated and without a community.

For me, it took a long time of research and spending time with myself to figure out that this is the label for me. The people most helpful during this time were the friends I made, of all years, who joined our secondary school’s first-ever LGBTQ+ Space. The weekly lunchtime club, run by an LGBTQ+ member of staff, became a haven to many who felt isolated and without a community.

This club was a safe space for LGBTQ+ teens who didn’t get the support they needed at home or in the classroom. A 17-year-old trans boy had moved from a school in the city to ours after bullies had followed him home each day and beaten him. A 15-year-old feminine presenting boy came to our safe space because, after someone in his form started a nasty rumour about him, no one in his class wanted to be friends.

In our safe space, they found friends. We found a community.

The thing that Rishi Sunak doesn’t understand is that trans and non-binary kids don’t go away if you pretend they don’t exist. Anti-trans critics have done a very good job of sensationalising the more negative sides of this experience. Yes, some trans+ kids realise later down the line that they no longer identify as trans. Yes, some trans+ kids change their minds about medically transitioning. Yes, sometimes kids find themselves joining a community because they’re lonely rather than because they identify with that community.

But I’d pose this: without these safe spaces and the open, accurate, discussions about trans+ identities in schools, these trans+ kids are not going to have that safe space to learn these things about themselves. They won’t learn the safe way to engage with the label of trans. They won’t learn the safe way to seek information about transitioning. They won’t learn which groups aren’t safe groups to join.

Children are always going to question their identity. They are developing rapidly, growing, changing. Every child has a different set of hormones, chromosomes, muscles, and brain. No two children will grow up the same. It’s healthy for children and teens to consider their identity, including their gender and how they interact with that. Erasing a space where they can do that safely is dangerous.

The self-harm and suicide rate for trans+ kids is scary. A 2023 paper in the Journal of Public Health found that trans youth were at a higher risk of experiencing self-harm, suicidal ideation, and even suicide attempts. However, they note, “Interventions focused on improving young people’s experiences in schools appear useful targets to help improve mental health outcomes.”

It’s not erasure that trans+ pupils need, it’s support. It’s someone they can trust who will give them accurate and reliable information.

‘It’s incredibly ignorant and short-sighted of the government to propose things like this’

‘If I distrusted or felt unsafe at high school and sixth form, I wouldn’t have been able to achieve the things I did’

Robin Cottle, a medical student at Lancaster, told The Tab, “I can’t see a situation in which this doesn’t cause serious harm. Kids in these positions very often need safe spaces outside of their home. When that safe environment is taken away from someone, it leaves them vulnerable. It’s incredibly ignorant and short-sighted of [the government] to propose things like this without thinking about the effect it will have on kids’ education, as well as their mental and physical health.”

That brings us to the next issue with Sunak’s plan: teachers will be forced to tell a child’s parents if their child is questioning their gender, even if the child begs them not to.

When I was at secondary school, one of my closest friends lived in supported accommodation. He had been there since he was fifteen when his parents threw him out of their home for coming out to them as gay.

He was too young to vote, to drive, to apply for universal credit. It was my first experience seeing someone use a food bank and it still sticks with me today.

‘It’ll make school no longer a refuge’

‘I am certain there will be a surge in abuse. It’ll make school no longer a refuge’

“Several younger teens I went to school with were afraid to come out to their parents,” Harry Atkin, a student from Lincolnshire, told The Tab. “It usually centred around religion or politics. The cases where parents found out had a huge negative impact on their home life. Some disowned and kicked out children as young as 12 and 13.”

The truth about this new rule for schools is that it puts vulnerable children in danger. If a child doesn’t tell their parents that they’re questioning their gender identity, then that is a fault of the parents for not creating a safe space at home.

‘If school had outed me, I wouldn’t know where was safe anymore’

‘Without the appropriate support, trans+ pupils will either have to self-craft a community or they’ll be left spinning on their own’

“I was raised in a specific kind of Christian home,” Andie Davies, a non-binary student from London told The Tab, “so for me to be non-binary, to use they/them pronouns, encapsulates what my father preaches against at church.

“If school had outed me before I was ready, I’d have been in no place to explain what was going through my head. I would have had an uncountable amount of panic attacks – I wouldn’t know where was safe anymore.

“These new rules are misguided attempts to appease people who want their children to be ‘straight and normal’. Since it was revealed Sunak made direct jokes about Trans people in a party meeting, I can only see any law they pass on this as calculated and aggressive. There is clearly no understanding from the people making or supporting these rules of what trans people, especially trans children, are going through.”

‘It is a safeguarding issue’

‘I still thought I was a woman until I was 18-19, even though I’ve always been viscerally uncomfortable with that label’

“I was raised C of E Christian and my mum is still a firm believer,” says 21-year-old Natalie, a Lancaster student going into secondary school teaching. “Any exposure I had to the LGBTQ+ community was through a bigoted lens. If school had told my mum before I was ready, it would have been shit for me. I wasn’t ready to come out at sixteen.

“This new guidance for schools will put kids in danger. It forces children out into unsupportive environments. It is a safeguarding issue. No responsible teacher in their right mind would be okay with this.

“As someone looking at positions in schools, I will be ignoring the fuck out of these new rules. If a child disclosed that kind of information to me and asked me to keep it secret, I would. I understand the importance of coming out on your own terms.”

‘It hurts nobody to be kind’

‘I feel on edge when I stay with my parents, knowing that they don’t and probably won’t respect my identity no matter how much I explain.’

“The new rules are an effective way to oppress those who are questioning their gender,” 3rd-year Lancaster student Victoria Drave told The Tab, speaking about their experience from a Hong Kong Chinese background. “This is nothing but harmful.

“What I would say to school discussing taking these on board: Please, don’t.

“Schools are meant to be places for children to be educated in a safe environment. Recognise children and teens’ gender and identities – they recognise yours. Let them explore, question, and find themselves. Make the classroom a safe space for learning about themselves!

“It hurts nobody to be kind and to educate yourselves on how to support LGBTQ+ youth. Use gender-neutral language, normalise pronouns, create a support system. It’s these things that will protect your children.”

Sunak’s guidance is an ill-advised, rushed job to appease anti-trans voters. It’s pathetic and it’s dangerous.

I’m grateful to be from a supportive and caring home. But not every kid in school is so lucky. If children aren’t coming out to their parents, there’s a reason why – which the child understands more than the teachers, more than Sunak.

In 2019, a fully LGBTQ+ inclusive Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) was written up by the government for schools across the UK. But, due to the lockdown, it wasn’t able to completely roll out. This new guidance Sunak is attempting to put on schools will undo everything RSE hoped to do. Sunak’s new guidance will force vulnerable LGBTQ+ teens into those militant trans activist groups he and his voters so fear.

If a pupil has questions about themselves that they didn’t feel comfortable asking at home, they would once have gone to a teacher they trusted. Now, this new guidance will force them down other avenues. Some of those avenues are dangerous. This new guidance will send our children directly to extremists online instead of helping trans and non-binary kids learn about their honest identities from reliable sources. From the teachers and homes they ought to love.

Your child’s school years are only the best years of their life if you let them be. This guidance won’t be what saves them.

To learn more about transgender rights or lend your support, check out the charity Spectra in the UK.

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