Our Letter: Regarding the EHRC Transgender Guidance for Secondary Schools

15 September 2020

Rebecca Hilsenrath

CEO, Equalities and Human Rights Commission

via email: correspondence@equalityhumanrights.com

Dear Mrs Hilsenrath,

EHRC Transgender Guidance for Secondary Schools

We read with concern the report in yesterday’s The Sunday Times about draft EHRC guidance to secondary schools around transgender pupils (‘Girls must bow to trans rights in new rules for schools’). Please engage with us to ensure that this guidance meets the needs of all families of trans secondary pupils.

We are the UK’s only nationwide parent-run group for parents of trans children. Since we were established a year ago, almost 200 parents have approached us for help. We aim to reduce parents’ feelings of isolation, and to support them in responding to their child’s gender distress at what can be a vulnerable time for family relationships. As a public authority, the EHRC must account for the different perspectives that shape this widely contested issue and we regret that your guidance has not yet been informed by the views of our parents, whose voices are fundamental to the welfare of their children.

Parents in our group tell us that secondary schools struggle to situate their children’s gender problems in any context but gender identity, as if transition were a catch-all solution rather than a fresh signal of a child’s distress about traumatic changes in adolescence. You’ll be aware that many children who repudiate their bodies also struggle with broader identity confusion than just gender. Our children’s mental health issues and developmental differences make them authentically non-conforming in ways that may not fit the prescriptive models of difference which schools promote. Often there are clear signs that society has signalled to a child that he or she is unacceptable in some way, and the trans identification can be a way for the child to render that difference acceptable. As parents, we seek to understand what problems our children are seeking to solve in proposing body modifications but too often we find schools have no curiosity for such important questions. This is a highly sensitive and little understood area of children’s development, in which – inevitably – secondary schools are ill-equipped to intervene.

Please understand, there is no consensus among families of trans children how best to support them. Many families – such as those we represent – have found that the ‘affirmative’ approach encourages vulnerable children to view their psychological challenges within a framework of social justice – making difficult feelings something to address by campaigning for, and enforcement of, rights – rather than to explore in a therapeutic setting.

We would welcome an opportunity to speak with you and your colleagues about this.

Yours sincerely,

[name redacted]

on behalf of

Bayswater Support Group