Trans issues have never been more at the forefront of public discussion than over the past month. The government’s consultation into the Gender Recognition Act has just closed and, as the deadline got closer, anti-trans activists stepped up their campaign to dispute the very existence of transgender people and suggest that promoting transgender equality serves to endanger women and girls. Actions have included hijacking the Pride parade in London, putting up a billboard in Liverpool during the Labour party conference and stickering cities across the UK.
This public furore also threw Girlguiding UK into the headlines. The organisation came under fire for withdrawing the membership of two Guides leaders who had signed an open letter criticising Girlguiding’s Equality and Diversity policy over the fact that it promotes transgender equality. The letter asserted that by allowing transgender girls to join, and by not revealing their identities to parents, the organisation was putting girls at risk. However, as Girlguiding have responded, “simply being transgender does not make someone more of a safeguarding risk than any other person”.
Organisations working with young people need to see beyond the toxic media debate. A lack of understanding, combined with misinformation breeds stigma, prejudice and abuse. As highlighted in ITV’s current drama, Butterfly; transgender young people find spaces such as toilets and changing rooms a source of anxiety, rather than an opportunity to cause harm. Rather than posing a risk to others, transgender young people are themselves at a very high risk of self-harm and bullying.
It is estimated that around 1% of the population are transgender, which amounts to around 100,000 young people in the UK. Children and young people may question their gender identity for a range of reasons and this may not mean they will go on to transition. However, the important thing is to validate the young person’s identity as it is now and support any changes that may arise as they come to explore their gender identity further. Puberty blockers are reversible, and only those over 18 can access gender reassignment surgery. Supporting a young person and accommodating their gender identity will not lead to irreversible harm. However, excluding them and refusing their needs may. Eight out of ten young trans people have self-harmed. Almost half of trans young people have attempted suicide. One in nine of trans young people has received death threats.
However, the research shows that where the environment is supportive, mental health issues, suicide, and self-harm amongst trans young people are vastly reduced. Girlguiding is taking a step to reduce the alienation and exclusion that transgender young people feel, by providing them with safe spaces to be themselves, free from the fear that they may be outed.
Even simple things, such as using the correct name and pronoun to address transgender young people make a vast difference. One study has found that just this step reduces the chances of someone attempting suicide by 65%. How can it be wrong to take steps to support some of the most vulnerable young people in our care? What additional harm must it cause to see your identity debated and attacked in such a public way?
The future is brighter, 86% of people who completed the Girls’ Attitudes Survey, said trans people shouldn’t be discriminated against. The girls attending Guides today will be helping to create a brighter, less misguided future for transgender people tomorrow.
You can read EqualiTeach’s submission to the consultation on the Gender Recognition Act here.