21 December 2023

A Christian’s response to the updated transgender guidance for UK schools

The government’s draft guidance for schools on gender-questioning children has been a long time coming, says Lizzie Harewood (Executive Officer of the Association of Christian Teachers (ACT) – an Affinity Agency Member). It’s far from a victory for Christians when it comes to trans issues, but it is a step in the right direction.

19 December felt suspiciously close to Christmas to deliver such monumental guidance for schools, and much like a child on Christmas day who had been sniffing curiously around the tree, rustling and shaking gifts, when I unwrapped the content contained in the document, there wasn’t a lot to surprise me. The detail was what I had anticipated, and largely hoped for, thanks to numerous leaks in the press leading up to the release. 

There’s a lot I’m thankful for in the guidance. Much of it is what the socially conservative-minded would call ‘common sense’: parents should be consulted if their child wants to ‘socially transition’, and primary schools should only use sex-based pronouns for children, even if they identify with a different gender. In secondary schools, approval for pronoun changes is limited. The guidance is clear that no one – pupil or staff – should be forced to use preferred pronouns. Additionally, it prohibits access to opposite-sex-designated facilities like toilets and changing rooms in schools.

For the Christian teacher, the guidance is largely good news

ACT members and other Christian educators often express concerns about pressures to affirm falsehoods and accept that boys are girls and vice versa in their school environment. The guidance provides reassurance that they won’t be compelled to use pronouns they believe to be false or mislead their students. This acknowledges the fundamental importance of conscience on such sensitive matters, recognising that Bible-believing Christians may hold non-affirmative perspectives on this issue.

The guidance is similarly protective of children, with emphasis on social transition being ‘extremely rare’ reflecting the cautious approach of the interim Cass review, acknowledging the gravity of such decisions and the impact on children’s lives. Emphasising the centrality of parents in decisions, especially on pathways for social transition, aligns with Biblical teaching emphasising family and parental responsibility. It respects the God-given role of parents in guiding their children.

The cost for children of an absence of clear guidelines

While I find much of the content gratifying, my satisfaction is dampened by the prolonged delay in the release of this guidance. To extend the metaphor I started with, it feels as if we’ve been stuck in a perpetual Narnia-like state – always winter but never Christmas. Discord surrounding this issue has intensified over the past couple of years, with an initial promised release of guidance in August 2022. The widely publicised disagreements between Gillian Keegan and Kemi Badenoch regarding the extent of their respective positions further added to the sense of anticipation surrounding its publication.

The cost has already been significant. With an absence of clear guidelines, school leaders have fumbled in the dark, attempting to formulate policies based on flawed or inconsistent advice or have navigated the issue on a case-by-case basis. Trust between schools and families has eroded as conflicting perspectives collided, and there have been professional repercussions, especially for Christians,  exemplified by cases like ‘Hannah’s,‘ who faced dismissal for questioning a school’s affirmative stance.

The most significant toll is borne by the most vulnerable participants in this discussion about the issue – children. Some, grappling with the very real distress of gender dysphoria, have been crying out for reliable help from trusted adults amid their confusion and have been met with a plethora of fudged responses from schools. Other students have found themselves entangled in a recent societal trend, where the objective reality of sex is replaced by the subjective concept of ‘gender identity’. 

The lessons on this subject, often facilitated by activist groups like Stonewall and Educate and Celebrate, also contribute to perpetuating confusion. They convey to non-conforming children the idea that their personalities might be deemed ‘inappropriate’ for their gender, further adding to the complexity that young people face. The government must ensure consistency in its messaging when it comes to its review of RSE materials and issue similarly sensible and even-handed guidance.

A rejection of God

We mustn’t pretend that this is a done deal either. There are 12 weeks of consultation with the risk that activists will attempt to dilute the guidance.  There are already leaders and teachers vowing to resist government instructions altogether. The government must be determined to hold schools to account in these cases. And the guidance for some will not go far enough – many ACT members would have desired a much more conservative stance. Indeed, there are clear harms attached to social transition that will not be circumnavigated by this guidance.

We mustn’t fool ourselves into believing that this is a ‘victory’ for the Christian perspective on trans issues. Although there are now protections for teachers with a Christian conscience, the problem that has evolved culturally is more than a rejection of God’s creative design, it is a rejection of God himself!

And isn’t that the more concerning issue at the heart of this topic?

May Christian educators humbly realise this as the ‘bigger picture’, as they resist the potential harm of social transition and yet reflect the compassion and immense grace of God in their approach. And may gospel-hearted teachers be the pioneers in presenting a ‘better way’ to address the phenomenon of gender confusion that so many young people in our nation seem to encounter.

Written by
Elizabeth Harewood
Lizzie Harewood is the Executive Officer of the Association of Christian Teachers (an Affinity Agency Member). She previously spent 12 years as a secondary school English teacher. Her passion is to equip Christians to be salt and light in the nation’s schools. Outside of work, Lizzie supports her husband as he pastors an evangelical church in Yorkshire. The rest of her time is taken up with being a busy mum of two kids, trialling experimental recipes and drinking good coffee!

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