Annette Pryce examines the impact of the anti trans rhetoric in the press and what teachers really think about changes to the Gender Recognition Act.
Teachers care about their students, they don’t just care about their grades, or the school’s results. They work with young people, because they care. And the last few weeks and months they will have been worried. They will have been concerned for their welfare, especially if their students are transgender.
It can’t have escaped the notice of teachers who have the time to muse over the newspapers, in that brief moment on a Sunday when we’re not working, that there has been a rancid attack on the transgender community of late. Eerily reminiscent of the anti-gay propaganda of the 1980’s around the about the time of an insidious little law called ‘Section 28‘ was being debated in parliament; there is today again a concerted effort by mainstream print press to paint a minority community as dangerous and a ‘fad’, with absolutely no thought as to the repercussions, or even fact checking.
The right-wing Christian fundamentalists have been blasted off the airwaves on morning television for advocating for a teacher who couldn’t, wouldn’t, get over his own personal beliefs, to exercise his professional responsibility.
There is an unpalatable discourse happening on social media and now in the press regarding the up-coming reform of the Gender Recognition Act 2004, and as the tension mounts, so does the rhetoric and propaganda. But where is the humanity in this discussion, these are human beings we’re discussing. And where do teachers sit in all of this? Where are the teachers who are in-service, who work every day with these young people, and who care?
I’m one of them and I also represent lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT+) teachers in the National Education Union (NUT Section). My union has very positive policy on protecting and defending our transgender members and students. Though I was curious as to the opinions of my own colleagues, as this insipid discourse seems to only really exist in a small political bubble.
They are all eminently sensible and experienced professionals who think that;
it’s ‘ridiculous to treat any person differently, they are children who need to be accepted, made to feel safe, and supported in their development’.
They can see the difficulties people may have initially in changing their use of language, but this is simply because they’ve been conditioned that way.
“It is difficult to change a lifetime of particular pronoun usage, but I think as long as the intention is to try to change, to try to be inclusive and accepting, then we are moving in the right direction.”
(Media Studies Teacher)
Teachers aren’t perfect people, we all have our own lived experiences and lack of training can sometimes leave swathes of them not only uninformed but unprepared to know what to do in situations where students need their help, with an ever-growing list of worries and concerns.
Training for teachers on issues of sexuality and gender identity has to be a priority for the government, at least to help them maintain a sense of self and hold onto their self-esteem amongst the bitter to-ing and fro-ing that is being waged in the media by adults who should know better.
Though it’s not a panacea, as one colleague of mine states:
“I don’t think training will shift anyone’s attitudes – that shift will only happen through engaging with trans people, people’s attitudes will change once their experience contradicts their prejudice.”
What is clear that the changes to the Gender Recognition Act are a necessary step to giving the trans community, and our students in that community, a way to be legally recognised as their true and authentic selves.
These reforms aren’t an issue that weighs heavily on teachers minds in real life as you can see from my colleagues, it really is only a problem on the internet. However, considering that’s where our students live most of the time, we have to worry that the views of prejudiced adults is once again harming them.
We need to be their champion, and help them build resilience against an onslaught of real life hatred. I always imagined being the champion for LGBT+ young people when I came out at school 25 years ago, and I genuinely hope the rest of the profession will be there for them too.
Follow Annette on Twitter (@lgbtexec)