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Crispin Blunt and Sue Pascoe: The press are whipping up a moral panic over transgender pupils

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As Conservatives, we believe in personal freedom and taking responsibility for the consequences of how we exercise that freedom.

We also believe that we must look after our families and communities, protect and foster our children’s futures, and shape their values: of respect and tolerance for the lives of others, and for them to live their lives in freedom as they choose within the normal bounds of a democratic society.

It is perhaps understandable when fear of difference or the unknown or caused by misreporting drives moral panic. But it doesn’t have to be this way. A society where each person is safe to be their authentic selves, contributing their whole self and interacting healthily and constructively with others, is much better than a repressed society.

We are currently in a moral panic about transgender children, which is driven by fear mongering and clickbait reporting of certain sections of the media.

The last time moral panic gripped the media over gay and lesbian children we ended up with legislation known as Section 28 that prohibited the “promotion of homosexuality” by local authorities. That legislation caused huge damage to many children and was repealed in 2003 in England and Wales, with David Cameron apologising to the LGBT+ community for it.

We now see a similar law to Section 28 being enacted in Hungary. We were pleased to see Wendy Morton, Minister for the European Neighbourhood and the Americas, stating in reaction to this:-

The UK is committed to the principle of non-discrimination on any grounds, including on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. We are committed to promoting and protecting the rights of LGBT+ people and are fundamentally opposed to all forms of discrimination. We work to uphold the rights and freedoms of LGBT+ people in all circumstances.”

We are encouraged that our Westminster government, who has responsibility across our United Kingdom, for equalities is unequivocally in this statement.

We need such resolve by our Governments in Westminster and in Holyrood. This is because the media have had a field day fear mongering, misquoting and creating moral panic over the Scottish Government’s “Supporting Transgender Pupils In Schools – Guidance for Scottish Schools”.

We’ve read it and it is a sensible document, pragmatic balancing sensitivities and legal obligations. Reading the press, however, you would think the world was about to end and everyone’s children needed to be locked away for protection. We exaggerate but not much.

Before highlighting why the fear mongers have got it wrong, perhaps some context. First, we recognise if you are a parent or grandparent or parent of a trans child you only want the best for your children and those of your neighbours so that all grow up together in a safe, respectful and inclusive learning environment.

Second, in 2019, there were 697,989 pupils in Scotlands public schools. It is known that around 200 young people per year receive support from the NHS Scotland Young Persons Gender Service with their transition. This a tiny number of people working through a different gender identity than they were assigned at birth with professional help. Not as the media would have you believe hordes of fashionable internet influenced adolescents.

We are encouraged the guidance is based on the General Teaching Council Scotlands Code of Professionalism and Conduct (COPAC) which sets out the standards of conduct and competence expected of registered teachers and includes:

2.1 treat sensitive, personal information about pupils with respect and confidentiality and not disclose it unless required to do so by your employer or by law;

2.7 be aware of the general principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, regarding equal treatment, the child’s best interests, and giving appropriate weight to the views of the child.”

So when we read headlines “children as young as four able to change their gender at school without parental consent” we knew they were trying to cause moral panic. They certainly were ignoring the teachers duties above but also were deliberately ignoring other sections in the guidelines:-

“If a young person wants the school to record the change of name and/or change of recorded sex formally, they (with their parents or carers if under 16) should write to the school to instruct this.”

And:-

“Evidence shows that young people who have parents who are supportive of their transgender identity are more likely to have good mental health, including improved self- esteem and reduced rates of depression.”

Then there was the sympathetic guidance for residential school trips which some commentators had also distorted and misquoted to try and create controversy when none existed. You will see that it is reasonable:-

“If any young person, including a transgender young person, is concerned about sharing a room with others, you could consider making alternative arrangements, including giving them their own room where appropriate. If any young person voices a concern, this should be considered – responses should be reasonable and proportionate, taking into account the rights of all young people. If showers are communal, find out if there are single-cubicle or private washing facilities which could be used by any young person, including a transgender young person, who would like greater privacy.”

We could go on, but we think you get the point. The media are creating moral panic just as was done in the run up to Section 28 being enacted. History is being repeated with the same tactics almost the same words even in the news articles just the target this time is not gay and lesbian children it is transgender children. The objective is the same to restrict the rights of transgender children by creating panic.

We are confident that neither our Government in Westminster or in Holyrood are going to let that happen. We are also confident that individual teachers are wise enough not to follow what is in the press or written by certain partisan commentators so they do not end up facing disciplinary actions for breaching COPAC or the Equality Act.

At the end of the day we wish the outcome to be a learning environment where privacy, safety, dignity and respect is afforded to every pupil so they can each achieve their full potential. Being inclusive of all pupils in all their rich diversity respects this objective.

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