Government trans guidance puts young people at risk

Dee Whitnell
Friday, February 2, 2024

As an ex-teacher, a qualified sex educator and a trans individual, I am fearful that the guidance that government is suggesting schools adopt for their trans students could impact on young people's mental health and wellbeing.

Dee Whitnell is a trans, qualified teacher who is now a sex educator. Picture: Mermaids
Dee Whitnell is a trans, qualified teacher who is now a sex educator. Picture: Mermaids

I founded #TransKidsDeserveToGrowUp in the summer of 2023, pre-empting the harm that would inevitably come with the government’s ‘gender questioning guidance’ released December 2023. Since then, my campaign has reached six million people online and been spotted in various prides and protests across the country.

Organisations like trans youth charity Mermaids have also been taking action in response to this trans exclusionary guidance. Mermaids launched their #SupportiveSchools campaign to highlight the real harm the guidance will - and is already - having.

In fact on 30 January Mermaids, alongside Stonewall, Liberty, Amnesty International and a broader coalition of charities, human rights organisations and educators launched their statement calling on the government to withdraw their guidance, and actually listen to trans young people. 

Despite the guidance not yet coming into law - it is under consultation until 12 March - many schools have pre-emptively enacted it. This is extremely concerning. Among other aspects of the guidance, it means that young people wanting to socially transition in order to live as their authentic selves - and those simply questioning their gender - having this explained to their parents by their teachers.

As there is no way of measuring if a young person’s household is truly trans inclusive, this approach could very well place young people at risk. It could lead to negative outcomes such as a young person second-guessing whether or not it’s safe for them to talk to a teacher at a time of immense vulnerability, or them simply wishing to skip school altogether to impact their education in the long term. 

I have personally received messages from parents who have taken the difficult decision to remove their trans young person from school due to the negative impact the guidance is having on their wellbeing.

One parent shared with me that their trans son could ‘no longer use the boys’ changing room’, ‘has limited access to the boys’ toilet’ and is fearful of ‘being outed and feeling different’ in front of his classmates. Mermaids have been hearing similar accounts since the announcement of the guidance; young people at secondary school who are now being misgendered by teachers and can no longer count on support from SENCO (special education need co-ordinator); parents being called in to school meetings to be told their trans young person cannot share a dormitory with the rest of her friends on a school trip, and will be placed in a separate room. 

The needs of trans young people are being left behind.

Rather than developing guidance that is reflective of best practice, as modelled by inclusive educators around the UK, the government has created more confusion for schools and is putting young people at risk. However, it isn’t just trans youth and families who are anxious; many teachers are unsure of what their rights are and how they can truly support all of their students.

Until the guidance comes into law however, there is still time to make a difference.

For those parents who are concerned about a decision their child’s school is making regarding their gender, they can use Mermaids’ template letter to outline their concerns and get a response from their school. Mermaids, LGBT Foundation, Stonewall, Gendered Intelligence and Trans Learning Partnership have also co-developed a guide to help individuals and organisations respond effectively to the consultation of the draft guidance. 

The bottom line is this: all young people deserve a safe and welcoming environment to learn the skills they need to navigate adulthood. As a trans teacher and once a trans student, I know how important this is. I created the first LGBTQ+ lunchtime club in the school I taught at and I remember how vital it was not just for the queer and trans pupils, but for their fellow pupils, who also came along. It ended up being a space where young people could meaningfully engage with school policy, learn about LGBTQ+ history and sometimes, simply, just be.

  • Dee Whitnell (they/them) is a trans person, qualified teacher and sex educator who holds workshops at schools and universities.

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