A Child’s Gender Identity – Who Decides?

NHS statistics indicate that referrals for children wishing to change genders have rocketed in the past 5 years, initiating worldwide debate as to how to respond to this in a societal and legislative sense. Here, Eleanor Drury looks at how parents, schools, and the government approach the gender identity of children and the implications teachers face without the government’s promised guidance.

A child’s gender identity, who decides? A proposed bill in California, Assembly Bill 957, also known as the Transgender, Gender-Diverse and Intersex Youth Empowerment Act, would seek to brand parents as abusive if they refuse to affirm their transgender child’s identity and let children’s social services intervene in instances of the same.

The act stresses that it is part of a child’s health, safety and welfare for parents to support their child’s self-proclaimed gender identity and allows the courts to consider parental responses to these sorts of issues when determining custody disputes, further encouraging the judiciary to strongly consider that affirming a child’s gender identity should fall within the realms of best interest decision making.

Here in the UK, legislators have taken a contrasting approach, with Suella Braverman MP stating that schools have no legal obligations which require them to address children by their preferred pronouns or names, nor accommodate them in opposite sex toilets or sports teams. In addition, the UK government are rumoured to be introducing new guidance which instructs teachers not to use a new name or pronoun, as requested by the student, without obtaining parental consent first.

Of course, the government must consider the implications this may have on children, with some educators accusing the government of creating an ‘atmosphere of fear’ whereby transgender children cannot access support from their teachers, along with potentially opening the floodgates for breaches of confidentiality claims. In addition, guidance such as this creates a particularly tricky environment to navigate given that it is common across schools nationwide for teachers to allow, and join in with, children being referred to by a name different to that which they were registered at birth with, such as a nickname. Schools will be no doubt be keen to ensure that they do not fall risk to direct discrimination complaints.

In modern society, the issue of children and gender identity is likely to continue to hit the headlines as reports of transgender and gender-fluid children soar. Government guidance is desperately needed in order to provide clarification in this controversial area and allow schools some relief from being caught in the crossfire of opposing views and beliefs. Last month, teachers at a school in Sussex were subject to controversy following the publishing of a secret recording in which teenage pupils were debating whether a person could identify as a cat, with one student brandishing this as ‘crazy’, only to be told by the teacher that these views were ‘despicable’, adding that if they didn’t like this, they need to find a different school. It appears that teachers are understandably fearful of what they say, and the consequences of the same, and therefore struggle to respond to students in a sensible and honest way. Without clear boundaries in this area, it can be argued that debates such as this only delegitimise and stigmatise young transgender people. The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) state that this underlines the need for the government to publish its promised guidance on children and gender identity, which the ASCL sought over 5 years ago.

Whilst it is extremely unlikely that any future guidance published in the UK will be so inclusive as to include children who wish to identify as animals, It will certainly be interesting to see if clarification will finally be provided for educators, and whether UK legislators are influenced by the differing proposals of the US in respect of gender dysphoria. Could it be that UK children’s social care may be forced to intervene in instances of disagreement between parent/guardian, and child?

If you or someone you know is affected by the issues raised in this blog post, we can provide you with expert legal advice. For more information, please get in touch with our specialist team at hello@mcalisterfamilylaw.co.uk

  • Eleanor Drury

    Trainee Solicitor