Two 14 year-old girls have written an open letter to the Education Secretary Gillian Keegan ahead of the forthcoming Department for Education draft transgender schools guidance. The girls have to remain anonymous for reasons that will become clear by reading their letter. The letter was first published on the website of the excellent Transgender Trend, whose motto is “No child is born in the wrong body”. You can donate here.
Dear Gillian Keegan
With the release of the Department for Education’s transgender guidance quickly approaching, we – two 14 year-old girls in separate secondary schools – want to contribute our thoughts to the discussion. There is a lack of student voices on this issue and it’s vital to have some perspective of what it’s like in a school environment where dissenting voices are stifled, extreme ideologies are presented as fact and girls are injured by boys in mixed-sex sport.
Schools are meant to be politically neutral; differences in thoughts and opinions should be encouraged and fostered, not shouted down and censored. There is a growing atmosphere of fear around this topic and many students, including us, are frightened to speak out openly due to the threat of ostracisation and bullying from students who adopt the authoritarian dogma of gender ideology. In our schools, opposition to this extreme theory is met with vitriol and restrictions on speech – in one of our schools, a student was discouraged from covering the topic of sport from a critical lens by a teacher and the discussion was branded too “triggering”, whilst a different student who was talking about the topic from a positive view was allowed.
It is vital that teachers present political topics in a neutral manner that allows differing viewpoints to be accepted. When controversial political ideologies are presented as absolute fact by teachers, whom students are meant to trust, this eliminates all chance of discussion, all chance of a nuanced debate. The concept of a ‘gender identity’ is a contested theory and it is not appropriate to present this ideology as absolute fact in classrooms. We urge the Education Secretary to construct an atmosphere of tolerance and respect by ensuring political neutrality is upheld in classrooms. By this, we ask for ‘gender identity’ not to be presented as unopposed fact. Teachers are required to be politically neutral in schools, so why is there a double standard when it comes to the transgender issue?
We’ve both – along with 72% of students from other schools across the U.K., according to Policy Exchange – had lessons on gender ideology in schools and every time it was presented as the complete truth. In schools across the country, kids like us are being told that girls can have penises, that humans can change sex, that there are seventy-two ‘genders’, that ‘gender identity’ is innate and unchangeable, despite NHS guidance stating that children who identity as ‘transgender’ may be going through a phase. This must stop, and if students are to be taught about ‘gender identity’, it must be presented in a neutral manner that specifies that this is a belief system, not fact.
As well as this, teachers must remain neutral when discussing this topic in lessons. We’ve also both experienced times when biased teachers attempt to implicate gender ideology in innocuous topics, for instance claiming that Zeus, the Greek god, was “non-binary”, or that Lady Macbeth was “gender-fluid”. Teachers also shouldn’t be asking students their pronouns, especially on the basis of non-conformity, or their sexuality or sexual preference, both of which raise major safeguarding concerns.
Some schools, including previously one of ours, feature ‘Pride flags’ in the corridors, with labels such as ‘genderqueer’, ‘non-binary’, ‘demiboy’, ‘polysexual’, among others, and include books in the library on inappropriate topics, such as Beyond Magenta, which includes a six year-old child engaging in sexual activity and fails to condemn this or mention the fact that this was unlawful due to the child being significantly underage. If schools are going to provide books promoting gender ideology they should also be required to feature books offering a different point of view, such as Irreversible Damage by Abigail Shrier, or Trans by Helen Joyce.
We also urge the DfE guidance to specify that students must not be punished for holding gender-critical views and that bullying and harassment on the basis of gender-critical beliefs shouldn’t be allowed. There is immense pressure among students our age to conform to the popularly-held views that trans women’ are women, and any opposition to this belief is considered ‘transphobic’ and unacceptable. There have been many cases of students being bullied and ostracised for disagreeing with gender ideology, where gender-critical pupils are punished by teachers, excluded by students and abandoned by friends.
A lot of us are too afraid to speak out due to fear of the consequences and this must change so that different opinions are allowed to be heard, even on divisive topics such as this one. We’ve been asked our pronouns countless times and it’s so exhausting to have to constantly play along and pretend to agree with this belief system out of fear, despite the fact we view it as regressive and harmful. In some schools, students are punished for referring to friends or classmates with biologically correct pronouns – this is insanely harmful, and it’s convincing students to ignore the evidence of our own eyes and ears, to place a single person’s feelings over objective reality, to indulge in an ideology we fundamentally disagree with.
We should not be coerced into using biologically incorrect pronouns for classmates and we must not be punished for refusing to do so. However, at this current time, according to Policy Exchange almost 70% of schools force other students to participate in a gender-distressed child’s ‘transition’ – this has to change and we are not going to stand for this destruction of our freedom of speech and belief.
We’ve also heard that the guidance will allow a “relaxed” approach to non-contact sport. We believe this is naïve and dangerously negligent. One of us has experienced mixed-sex sport at our school and after being deliberately targeted by the boys, she was hit in the face and breasts, breaking her glasses. Afterwards, all the girls in the changing room were complaining how unfair it was they’d been forced to participate against boys despite an obvious physical advantage. And this was meant to be a non-contact sport.
Accidents happen, and when they do it’s always a lot worse when it’s a boy hurting a girl due to the differences in strength, muscle mass etc. As well as this, we see no reason for a boy to be allowed to compete in girls’ sports, especially due to the physical differences, since members of the opposite sex are likely to be stronger, faster and have an obvious athletic advantage, even at a young age, and also due to the fact that having to participate with males can and will make many girls feel uncomfortable and afraid, particularly when at a vulnerable age when we’re going through puberty.
Thanks to the insight gained from Policy Exchange’s Asleep at the Wheel report, we now know that this is a much more widespread problem than we originally expected. For instance, one in five schools had absolutely no single-sex changing facilities, which places young schoolgirls at significant risk from being forced to undress in front of males for PE – an obvious and blatant safeguarding risk. We deserve privacy whilst in vulnerable positions, for instance while getting changed, and our rights are destroyed when you bring boys into the equation. For that reason, we are hopeful that all schools are required to have single-sex changing areas, and that boys are not allowed to enter female-only changing spaces even if they ‘identify as girls’.
The same goes for toilets – despite schools being legally required to have single-sex toilets, at least 28% are not maintaining this standard. It can be extremely uncomfortable for girls to have to use the same toilets as boys, especially when dealing with menstruation, and single-sex spaces are proven to be safer than their mixed-sex counterparts. Thankfully, it appears that boys will not be allowed to use female-only toilets, which will hopefully put an end to occurrences like hearing a male voice in what is supposed to be a female-only space, as one of us has experienced.
Mixed-sex toilets tend to be less clean, less private and less safe than single-sex facilities, therefore we think it’s unreasonable for schools to have both mixed-sex and single-sex toilets, when single-sex facilities alone are more convenient, safer and more dignified. If a boy does not feel comfortable using the male-only toilets, despite being male, he could potentially use the disabled toilets instead, but mixed-sex toilets help absolutely no-one and put all girls at a disadvantage.
Lastly, safeguarding should be valued above all. Frequently, teachers deceitfully hide a child’s ‘gender transition’ from his or her parents, which has happened and is still happening at our schools, as we’ve seen in our own experience. Honesty is fundamental in the relationship between parents and teachers and to conceal something as significant as ‘social transitioning’ from parents is an astonishing betrayal of trust. Schools must be required to be open and honest about whether or not a child ‘identifies as trans’, especially when the child is in a vulnerable position.
In some schools, students’ recorded sex is changed in the register due to the student’s or parent’s requests. This is misleading to both other students and teachers; important information such as sex should not be falsified. Honesty and integrity are key components in schools and to cloud the waters under the guise of ‘inclusivity’ does not make it better.
So we call upon the Education Secretary to value the dignity and safety of girls in secondary schools like us and to value the freedom of speech of all students. We request schools become politically neutral in encouraging a diverse range of opinions and thoughts and not to stifle students’ rights by presenting a highly contentious ideology as fact.
Two secondary school girls, aged 14