Transgender children failed by the system, warns equality Chair

Published: 05 Nov 2017

Transgender children are being failed by our schools and society, leading to an unprecedented number of self-harm and suicide attempts, Equality and Human Rights Commission Chair David Isaac warned today.

The risks to transgender children are becoming so prevalent that the Commission is now starting work on new guidance for schools on how to support them. It is expected to be published by then end of March next year.

David Isaac, said:

“We should be pleased that children feel increasingly more comfortable talking about their gender identity – but we need to get better at dealing with it. On a daily basis, transgender and gender-questioning children all over the country are being failed by the system; rigid views about what it means to be male or female and a lack of understanding of how to respond to gender identity issues place an enormous burden on children, and are resulting in isolation, discrimination, prejudice and bullying. This has led to an unprecedented amount of self-harm and suicide attempts which must end now. If we want a fairer Britain we need to start addressing this rising issue, for the sake of our next generation.”

Amongst other subjects, the guidance will address: different gender definitions, effective safeguarding, tackling bullying, appropriate language, uniforms, pronoun and name change, toilets and changing rooms, sports classes, parental concerns, and single sex admissions; and will be discussed at a leading roundtable held by the Commission tomorrow.

As the number of children and young people being referred to England’s specialist gender identity development service continues to rise, the guidance will provide schools with information on how to effectively support trans and gender-questioning pupils, challenge transphobia, and create an inclusive learning environment in relation to gender identity. It will increase confidence of staff; ensure schools are complying with the Equality Act 2010, as well as the Human Rights Act 1998; and incorporate awareness about gender identity, inclusion and transphobia into schools’ lessons and ethos.

The guidance will prove a welcome relief to the trans community as Mermaids, a charity which provides support for gender diverse and transgender children and young people and their families, has seen over 400% rise in emails and calls over the last three years.

Susie Green, CEO at Mermaids, said:

“We have been trying for many years to secure national guidance from the government to support gender diverse children and young people in schools, with no success. We welcome this new guidance, and are delighted that at long last, schools and pupils will have the tools needed to ensure that transgender and gender variant young people are nurtured and enabled to complete their education without fear and prejudice.”

Jay Stewart, CEO at Gendered Intelligence, a not-for-profit which specialises in supporting young trans people under the age of 21, said:

"The Equality and Human Rights Commission is taking an urgently-needed step in producing new guidance for schools to help them support trans students. From our extensive experience of supporting schools with trans inclusion, heads, teachers and other staff members will highly value this sort of guidance which sets a national rather than regional precedent.

"In theory young trans people are already protected by equality legislation, but there is widespread confusion and a lack of confidence over how to put this legislation into practice. We see hundreds of young trans people every year who experience significant levels of distress and isolation because they cannot be themselves at school. The Commission’s new guidance will send strong message to schools that action must be taken to protect trans students from bullying and discrimination.

"At Gendered Intelligence we know that many schools recognise the importance of including young trans people in all areas of school life. They will appreciate clear and incisive guidance from the Commission on the most effective ways to put systems in place that promote trans equality and support all students."

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