Victoria Hewson is a solicitor and co-founder of Radical, a campaign for truth and freedom in the gender recognition debate. She and Rebecca Lowe, her co-founder, alternate authorship of this column on trans, sex and gender issues.
It was announced on Saturday that an application by a 13-year-old schoolgirl (known as Miss A) for judicial review of Oxfordshire County Council’s Trans Inclusion Toolkit has been accepted by the High Court.
If she succeeds, it may lead to the council having to withdraw the toolkit, along with other local authorities that also use it.
The toolkit is an alarming document. Its recommendations – for professionals working in schools, colleges, and educational settings – include:
- A suggested script for schools to use to communicate to parents/carers, stating: “As a school/college/setting we recognise the right of all individuals to determine their own gender identity. We will fully support every individual in our school/setting to develop their own gender identity and expression including where this may involve transition”.
- On toilets – “Children and young people are supported through the Equality Act 2010 to access the toilet that corresponds to their gender identity; so trans girls because they are girls, can use the girls’ toilets and trans boys the boys’ toilets.”
- On changing rooms – “In all cases, trans children and young people should have access to the changing room that corresponds to their gender identity.”
- On PE and fitness – “Schools should aim to reduce as far as possible segregating children and young people by gender.* Trans children and young people should be supported to equally access PE and where lessons are segregated by gender should be enabled to participate in the lesson which corresponds to their gender identity if this is what they request.”
- On residential trips – “As far as possible, trans children and young people should be able to sleep in dorms appropriate to their gender identity. Some trans children and young people may not feel comfortable doing this and in such cases alternative sleeping and living arrangements should be made.”
All of this is based on some quite egregious misstatements of the Equality Act 2010, which the toolkit purports to be assisting schools to comply with.
The toolkit refers throughout to ‘gender identity’ and the concept of a ‘trans child’, and claims that the Equality Act underpins the recommendations made.
But the Equality Act 2010 contains no such protected characteristic of ‘gender identity’. It does include protected characteristics of ‘sex’ and ‘gender re-assignment’, but neither of these are the same as ‘gender identity’.
Furthermore, as set out in Miss A’s grounds for review, submitted to the court, the council did not take into account the privacy, dignity and safety of other children, or even the existing regulations that require schools to provide separate facilities for boys and girls over the age of eight. On these bases, her case is that the toolkit is unlawful.
It is welcome news that the judicial review is to proceed, and will at least shed light on the council’s processes and justifications for adopting this document and recommending that schools under its control follow its guidance.
The toolkit quotes activist organisations like Stonewall liberally, and while a number of local authorities, including Oxfordshire, are said to have contributed to its content, it has been suggested that it was produced by an employee of Stonewall.
Oxfordshire County Council (which is Conservative-dominated but under no overall control) proudly proclaims on its website that it was the joint winner of last year’s Stonewall Education Equality Index.
Before this case was initiated, the concerned parents who set up the Safe Schools Network had attempted to engage councillors in a discussion about the toolkit and the review process that had led to its adoption, but one member tells me they were met with obfuscation and dismissal.
Perhaps the council should pay more attention to the interests of parents and children in the county, and less time engaging with Stonewall.
It is also notable that the council has been strongly criticised in the past for failings in safeguarding of children in an investigation into child sexual exploitation in the county.
Whether or not the judicial review is successful and the toolkit is withdrawn, voters and parents in Oxfordshire and the other local authorities that have adopted it should be asking serious questions of their councillors who have responsibility for education and safeguarding.
The use of Department for Education guidance, and documents like the Government Equalities Office’s LGBT Action Plan in support of the toolkit, also raise questions for those bodies.
Up-to-date guidance from government on transgender issues in schools, in light of the real provisions of the Equality Act, is overdue. This judicial review of Oxfordshire County Council makes the case for the issuing of that guidance all the more urgent.
*In fact, of course, they are not segregated by gender (a contestable matter of social construct): they are segregated by sex (a matter of biological truth).