Scotland’s controversial schools’ guidance on trans issues

In July 2016, the UK Supreme Court struck down the Scottish Government’s controversial named person policy in a seminal ruling. One widely-quoted line from this judgment notes: “The first thing that a totalitarian regime tries to do is to get at the children, to distance them from the subversive, varied influences of their families, and indoctrinate them in their rulers’ view of the world. Within limits, families must be left to bring up their children in their own way.”

The court held that certain aspects of the scheme, a flagship SNP policy that appointed a state guardian for every child in Scotland, were incompatible with the right to a private family life described in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. And it reminded Ministers – forcibly – that the state must not impose its own ideals on families.

You would think that after this legal shot across the bows, ministers might tread more cautiously when it comes to policies concerning family life and the historic convention that parents are the primary carers, educators, and legal guardians of their children. However, one educational diktat by the Government exhibits exactly the kind of authoritarian overreach so decried by the Supreme Court.

New guidance for primary and secondary schools sets out state orthodoxy on trans issues and tells teachers how to interact with pupils presenting as the opposite sex, as well as their families. As with previous policies on trans issues, the guidance was drafted by activists. It is not the result of considered and balanced consultation with a wide range of expert groups, parents, and children with different perspectives.

A read through the 70-page document makes it clear that parents are to be side-lined by educators. The document tells teachers that a child’s decision to assume a trans identity – a serious decision that can see pupils placed on a pathway to hormone treatment and surgery – can be made without any consultation with a parent or guardian:

“A transgender young person may not have told their family about their gender identity…Therefore, it is best to not share information with parents or carers without considering and respecting the young person’s views and rights” (p35).

Children are also permitted to change their recorded sex on school databases without the knowledge of their family.

On dealing with concerns expressed by a parent or carer about a child, the document implies that guardians’ views can be changed and that teachers should do all they can to endorse a pupil’s decision:

“[Some parents] may react negatively because they have inaccurate or incomplete information, or because they are worried about what it will mean for their child and their future… Parents and carers may have different views from the transgender young person. If this is the case teachers and school staff can assist by creating opportunities for young people to have their views heard and by developing a support plan for the transgender young person in the first instance” (p37).

At no point in the document is there any suggestion that a pupil’s decision to pursue a trans identity and potentially seek medical reassignment through services signposted by the school might not be in their best interests. Even when it comes to the youngest, most impressionable pupils in primary schools, the guidance instructs teachers not to tell a child expressing a desire to be the opposite sex that it is ” just a phase”. Instead, they must simply “be affirming”. This despite studies showing the vast majority of such children grow out of dysphoric feelings if they are not encouraged to embrace them.

The shape of the guidance is alarming when you consider evidence of the harms caused by transitioning. Experts point to a dearth of long-term scientific studies on current treatments. For example, the NHS website states that the long-term effects of puberty blockers are unknown: “Little is known about the long-term side effects of hormone or puberty blockers in children with gender dysphoria…it is not known what the psychological effects may be.”

Many also point to the testimonies of a growing number of young people expressing a desire to ‘detransition’ (return to live in accordance with their biological sex). Keira Bell, a high-profile detransitioner, alleges that she was part of a “devastating experiment” when she was encouraged to medically transition by authorities as a teenage girl. Recounting her own, disturbing experience, she writes:

“I was adamant that I needed to transition. It was the kind of brash assertion that’s typical of teenagers. What was really going on was that I was a girl insecure in my body who had experienced parental abandonment, felt alienated from my peers, suffered from anxiety and depression, and struggled with my sexual orientation.

“After a series of superficial conversations with social workers, I was put on puberty blockers at age 16. A year later, I was receiving testosterone shots. When 20, I had a double mastectomy. By then, I appeared to have a more masculine build, as well as a man’s voice, a man’s beard, and a man’s name: Quincy, after Quincy Jones.”

“The consequences of what happened to me have been profound: possible infertility, loss of my breasts and inability to breastfeed, atrophied genitals, a permanently changed voice, facial hair…it was the job of the professionals to consider all my co-morbidities, not just to affirm my naïve hope that everything could be solved with hormones and surgery.”

Are these concerns not considered valid by Scottish Ministers? Do their safeguarding policies hold that this is an acceptable outcome for young women? The guidance makes no mention of such concerns. Instead, it enforces radical trans ideology, without scrutiny. Parents – and there are many – who do not wish to see their child encouraged down this dangerous path will be outraged to learn this.

The Scottish Government actually claims that the guidance “is not prescriptive and does not promote transitioning”. This is laughable. Every single section of the document tells teachers to affirm pupils in their trans identity. And additional resources for teachers listed in the guidance include materials by groups like Mermaids and Stonewall, which endorse the so-called ‘affirmation’ model. These groups champion cross-sex hormones, puberty blockers, and surgery as legitimate ‘treatments’, and assist children in accessing them.

The guidance also raises fundamental questions about the right of teachers and pupils to express their own beliefs in the school environment. It warns at length about ‘transphobic’ bullying, which can involve something as innocent as “gestures, looks and other non-verbal communication”. One section even implies that bullying could cross the line into ‘hate crime’.

“There is no crime of bullying as such. Whether an instance of bullying behaviour constitutes a hate crime will depend on the individual circumstances of any case” (p18).

It recommends that a pupil’s desired name and pronouns be used by pupils and school staff, with no exceptions:

“Using the correct pronouns is the right and respectful approach to including transgender young people. Where the wrong pronoun is accidentally used they should simply apologise and try not do this in the future” (p25).

“Staff and young people should avoid ‘deadnaming’. This is when someone intentionally calls a transgender young person by their previous name. Depending on the situation, it could be distressing for the young person, or be viewed as bullying” (p25).

Staff and pupils may be willing to use pronouns if they are asked to do so by a pupil, but this is very different to ordering the use of pronouns. What about staff and pupils with religious or philosophical objections to using pronouns contrary to a person’s birth sex? Forcing them to do so would amount to compelled speech, which should have no place in a democratic society.

The Scottish Government will claim that its guidance is ‘non-binding’ – that schools may plot their own path on this issue. But how many schools, after receiving an official document from the state with a government logo on the front page, will actually do this? Many will consider the guidance to be best practice, and some may see it as a binding legal document.

The introduction of this guidance raises fundamental questions about the interplay between the Scottish state and the family, the politicisation of schools, and the ethics of professionals endorsing pseudo-scientific treatments shown to harm children and young people. It also represents a fresh attack on the liberties of parents, teachers, and pupils across Scotland.

If the Scottish Government wishes to avoid harm to children, and the resultant outcry in wider society, it would be well-advised to withdraw this guidance now.

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