20 July 2023

School trans guidance must not become another Section 28


As a rule of thumb, I am completely comfortable being out of step with the LGBT+ mainstream on issues like pronoun badges, transgender women in women-only sports, self-ID, puberty blockers and – naturally – voting Conservative.

Indeed, I remember the first time I saw pronoun badges at the LGBT+ Leaders Student Conference in 2017. I quietly thought, ‘Is this really necessary?’ Before another delegate made a beeline for the table and as he brushed past me exclaimed, ‘This is so important!’. I looked at him as he fixed a ‘he/him’ badge to his lapel, and I thought, ‘surely not’.

I have a similar feeling about hardline stances on trans issues, such as outright bans on ‘social transitioning’ in schools, as when I first saw those pronoun badges. I am left thinking, ‘is this really necessary?’. I regret that this puts me out of step with Conservatives I admire, like Kemi Badenoch, whom I backed in last year’s leadership contest, or Miriam Cates, whom I have worked with on the campaign group Conservatives Against Racism for Equality.

However, it is worth stating, as it is easy to forget, that in Britain we have been able to legally change gender since 2004 – and the Gender Recognition Act, which enabled this, passed the Commons with less controversy than the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act of 2013, which celebrates its 10th year on the statute book this year.

For those who aren’t familiar, ‘social transition’ is when a person suffering from gender distress adopts a new pronoun, name and forms of self-expression, such as hairstyle and clothing, to match their desired gender. It does not include medical interventions, such as surgery, or medication like puberty blockers. As someone on the more libertarian wing of the Conservative Party, I cannot help but wonder what the state has to do with what someone wishes to wear, be called or how they style their hair. With the right safeguarding around how the sex of children is recorded at school (given you cannot legally change gender until 18), single-sex spaces and activities such as sports, I am afraid I can see no justification for an outright ban on ‘social transition’ at schools, as some Conservative MPs I have long respected would like to see.

That parents – not the state – know what is best for their children is fundamental to conservative beliefs. It was therefore distressing to read on these pages about the Kafka-esque treatment of a mother who disagreed with teachers’ handling of her child’s gender distress. It is right that parents should be informed if their child expresses concern about their gender identity, unless there is a compelling reason not to. Yet an outright ban on social transitioning would also violate the principle of parental primacy. If a parent is happy for a child to wear clothes of the opposite gender, as I did, why is that any of the Government’s business?

I recall a student in my sister’s class at primary school adopting a new name for a period before returning to their original name. Whilst I was young at the time, I don’t recall any problems with it whatsoever. This person is now an adult and leads a successful, heteronormative life. Experimenting with different clothes or pronouns does not necessarily mean a child will go on to medically transition – and it should be up to parents and health professional to determine whether a child is experiencing gender distress or simply enjoys dressing up.

More broadly, it’s imperative to remove the sting from the trans debate and present compelling, common-sense solutions to a very thorny issue. Teachers have asked for guidance on how to help trans-identifying children, and the Government is right to draft it. However, it must be driven by the principle of parental consent and clinical evidence, rather than emotion. I am relieved, therefore, that the Attorney General has deemed an outright ban on social transition unlawful. Politics must move past lazy, knee-jerk bans on anything the ‘public’ – or, more accurately, vocal campaigners on Twitter – do not like.

The last time the Conservatives drafted guidance for schools on LGBT+ issues, back in 1988, based on feelings rather than facts they ended up with Section 28. Two decades later, David Cameron apologised for the notorious legislation banning the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality in schools, rightly saying it was ‘offensive to gay people’. Conservatives have been on the wrong side of history before and, as Einstein said, ‘Insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results’.

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Albie Amankona is a GB News Host and Financial Analyst.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.