The founder of an organisation that provides material for parents and schools criticising what it calls the “trans narrative” has said that teachers should out transgender pupils to their parents.
Stephanie Davies-Arai, who runs Transgender Trend — an activist group described as "dangerous" by Stonewall, the LGBT rights charity — told BuzzFeed News: “If the child comes out as trans I think it’s really important that parents are informed.”
When asked by BuzzFeed News about the effect of outing children, Davies-Arai acknowledged that “some parents are abusive and bigoted” but added that “we have to assume that most parents have the best interests of their child at heart”, and that “schools know when there’s safeguarding issues within a family”.
As such, she said, “the school needs to have a chat with parents and say that your child is expressing these feelings in school”.
Davies-Arai also dismissed the use of the word “outing” to describe disclosing to parents that their child is transgender, arguing that it was “a very political way of putting it”.
The National Education Union's guidance to teachers makes clear that "it would be a criminal offence for someone who has been told that someone is trans in the course of their professional role to disclose this information without the consent of the student".
A leading child protection expert condemned disclosing a pupil's gender identity to their parents as a potential “child protection issue”.
In the absence of statutory sex and relationships education that includes LGBT issues — and therefore no standardised approach to discussing trans identities — Stonewall recommends staff "discuss levels of confidentiality," with trans pupils and, "make it clear to all pupils that they can talk to pastoral staff about issues related to their gender".
Davies-Arai provoked heavy criticism earlier this week when her group published downloadable stickers on its website with slogans such as “Kids shouldn’t be taught in school that they can choose to be a boy or a girl” and “Is Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria the new anorexia?”. The campaign was piggybacking onto a range of anti-trans groups daubing stickers onto public places in recent weeks.
In May, the group drew fury for a resource pack for schools on how to deal with trans pupils, which Stonewall said perpetuated “damaging myths, panic and confusion”.
Davies-Arai told BuzzFeed News that disclosing the gender identity of a pupil to their parents is “not like outing someone who is gay” because of the "medical pathway” — referring to the fact that trans people can eventually opt for hormones or surgery.
Children cannot medically transition in Britain, although in principle they can have hormone therapy from the age of 16 and surgery from 18. She cited as an example parents finding out “that their daughter has been a boy in school for the past year but nobody has told them”, and said that would then be a “safety issue” because of potential medication intervention.
But Joanna Nicolas, a child protection consultant, trainer, and the author of two books on child protection, dismissed this as "absolute rubbish".
"There is only one care pathway for children who are trans and that’s through the Tavistock [gender identity clinic] and they’re not going to be doing anything without the parent’s involvement," she said.
If a child said that they were trans and didn't want their parents to know, said Nicolas, the school should talk to the child to ascertain whether there were child protection concerns from the parents knowing and therefore “if the child was at risk of abuse”.
Susie Green, CEO of Mermaids, a leading support group for trans children and their families, said that outing kids to parents “could expose them to harm”.
Green rejected the idea that a school would know which parents would react badly to a trans child. “How on earth could a teacher have that knowledge? They might meet a parent once a year at a parents evening, and only one parent.
"Kids often do come out at school to their peers first. Kids are very worried how their parents will behave and whether or not this will make their home life hell — and sometimes it does. Therefore exposing a child, knowingly, to the possibility that this may happen if they have confided in you is so unprofessional.”
Davies-Arai also defended her organisation’s new stickers, insisting that it was a way of conveying that she and some parents are “worried about the one message that children are getting in schools” regarding gender identity and treatment.
The page on the group’s website containing the stickers includes instructions for use and the labels available from Amazon on which to print them. They cover 14 different slogans, including: “Medical sex-change treatment for children is an experiment”; “Teenagers are coming out as transgender after social media binges”; and “We don’t know the long-term effects of puberty blockers”.
When asked by BuzzFeed News why the first of these slogans suggests children are given medical treatment to change sex when that is not the case, Davies-Arai said: “I’m including puberty blockers in that.”
These medications can be made available to under-16s but do not change sex, instead delaying sexual development to grant a child time to consider how they want to proceed. “I stand by it,” she said.
She also defended the other stickers, adding that the social media line was justified because “this is what we hear from parents all the time”.
Asked how many transgender people she has consulted since Transgender Trend’s launch in 2015, she said “about 10”, including those who have contacted her with concerns about how trans issues are handled.
The sticker drawing a comparison with anorexia was justified, she said. “The fact is, there is this massive increase in teenage girls and we have seen similar contagions — I’ll use that word — among teenage girls. Historically if there is any contagion it’s teenage girls that are involved.”
The World Professional Association for Transgender Health, which includes leading medical as well as legal experts in trans treatment, said the notion of a “contagion” was flawed. It comes from a recent study coining a term “Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria” — claiming that teenagers suddenly think they’re trans after being exposed to social media. The WPATH said this was “inappropriate” and premature”, and “not a medical entity recognized by any major professional association”.
Davies-Arai is not qualified in medicine, law, or teaching, and does not have professional experience working with trans people. She described herself as a sculptor and a “credited instructor in communication skills”.
She said the stickers were "for use personally" and were not intended for schools.
“We had queries from parents, ‘Can you make us a sticker sheet?’ We’re not suggesting people use them illegally. They’re just another way of getting an alternative message out there, to make people stop and think and be a little bit more cautious about the pathway that we are promoting to children.”
However, she said Transgender Trend had sent its resource pack to schools, teachers and “safeguarding leads at schools”.
Asked where she hoped the stickers would be placed, Davies-Arai said, “on personal books, notebooks, just personally. We’re not suggesting people go out stickering with them.”
On Monday, however, the group's Twitter account described the campaign as "following in the footsteps of the infamous #stickerwoman" — a recent campaign that saw anti-trans stickers plastered in public places. And Davies-Arai defended the “Women Don’t Have Penises” stickers stuck on statues, offices, and public transport.
In recent weeks stickers have appeared around Manchester's Oxford Road railway station — British Transport Police said there was no evidence to support a claim they had razor blades underneath them — while Liverpool Resisters, another trans-critical group, posted stickers across public places and famous landmarks in Liverpool. They were also stuck on the National Portrait Gallery and the offices of the Guardian newspaper and Stonewall in London.
The claim that Transgender Trend’s stickers were not similarly intended for use in schools or public places was “completely disingenuous”, said Susie Green from Mermaids.
“For personal, private use? That’s not what this is, that’s [Transgender Trend] making a huge pretence over the actual aim of this.”
The slogans on the stickers were “really worrying”, Green said, fearing that they would end up “given to children or young people that are in school to put on bags, pencil cases”. As such it is, along with the slew of other trans-critical stickers, a way of invalidating the existence of trans people, she said.
“We know our [trans] kids are very vulnerable to a high percentage of bullying and self-harm and suicide attempts, and this kind of harassment is only going to make things worse.”
The stickers attacking medical interventions are also unfounded, said Green.
“The fact is, treatment for [trans] children and young people has evolved massively over the last 20 years with lots of evidence to show that intervention leads to better outcomes for young people — that they go on to have better life choices, are more confident, have higher self-esteem.”
When children who are trans are ignored, the opposite effect is seen, she said, adding that Davies-Arai and others at Transgender Trend “don’t listen to young people or their parents who are affirmative" of their transgender identity, and are "not talking to kids who are much happier and more confident due to the fact that they are in a supportive environment.”
Green added: “Children are people and should be given the opportunity to talk about who they are, and supported to explore that whatever the outcome. We are not saying that with every child the outcome is they’re definitely trans. What we’re saying is you need to listen to them.”
Joanna Nicolas said it would only be appropriate for a school to inform parents their child was trans if there were an additional concern such as “suffering from mental health problems” and only if under a certain age. “If you’ve got a 15-year-old who says to a teacher, ‘I’m trans, and I don’t want my parents knowing about it,’ then if there’s nothing concerning you in terms of being bullied or that child’s mental health, then you wouldn’t tell the parents.”
In the same way, she said, if a 16-year-old girl was unwell from a morning-after pill the school would not tell the parents — and cited the so-called Fraser Guidelines, which follow a legal case brought by the mother of a 14-year-old prescribed the pill by the GP without the mother knowing. The judge found in the child’s favour.
In a statement, Stonewall said Transgender Trend's sticker campaign "contributes to an environment where the bullying of trans students can flourish".