There Is A Row About Transgender Girlguides And This Is Why

Here's why the organisation's equality and diversity policy is hitting headlines.
A group of Guides and Brownies (file photo)
A group of Guides and Brownies (file photo)
PA Wire/PA Images

Girlguiding has defended its decision to allow transgender women to become both guides and leaders, following an outcry over two leaders being expelled from the organisation.

The two women, who raised concerns about the policy change, had allegedly made comments about the group’s equality and diversity decisions on social media.

Far from being the start, this development is the latest in a long string of updates in an ongoing debate in the Girlguiding community which has raged – sometimes spilling over onto social media and newspaper pages – for months.

The Policy

The equality and diversity policy – which must be adhered to by all leaders and guides – was published way back in January 2017 and aims to ensure the organisation remains “committed to extending Guiding, its purpose and method to girls and young women up to the age of 25 in all parts of society”.

The section of the the policy at the centre of the debate focuses on transgender guides and leaders, simply stating that “if a child or young person self-identifies as a girl or young woman, then they are able to join any of our youth sections appropriate to their age”.

This means they can then take part in any activities offered, including residential trips, with the policy adding: “It is not a requirement – or best practice – to tell parents that a trans person will be attending a residential event.”

This part of the policy that has come under scrutiny, with some parents “voicing concerns” over the fact their daughter could share a room with a transgender guide, without their knowledge – but things didn’t kick off until more than a year after the policy was implemented.

The Open Letter

In March, newspapers began reporting on a handful of Guiding leaders and parents being unhappy with the section on transgenders girls.

Helen Watts was one of 20 unit leaders who voiced concerns and speaking to The Times, she explained that parents had not been asked about their thoughts on the rules, appealing to the organisation to take them into account.

Girls and young people aged five to 25 can join different age-appropriate Guiding groups
Girls and young people aged five to 25 can join different age-appropriate Guiding groups
PA Archive/PA Images

“I don’t think a transgender person necessarily presents a danger to anyone else, nor would I want to exclude them,” she said. “But the emphasis is being placed on their needs and not on the needs or views of the other girls.”

Debate soon opened up online and things escalated in April, when 224 guide leaders, parents and guides co-signed an open letter which claimed the policy “poses safeguarding risks, reinforces gender stereotypes and denies informed parental consent”.

The letter – which Watts was one of the signatories of – was published in the Sunday Times underneath the headline “Allowing boys to be Guides is wrong” and referred to transgenders girls as “boys” on numerous occasions, reading: “A boy who identifies as a girl is still legally and physically male.

“Trans inclusion, while laudable, must not sacrifice the safety, privacy or inclusion of girls.”

Two Leaders Leave

In the months that followed, Girlguiding remained silent but the topic was pushed into the spotlight again this weekend, when the Sunday Times reported that two leaders – one of them being Watts – had been expelled for “raising safeguarding concerns about the organisation’s transgender policy”, while five more are reportedly being investigated.

Unhappy with the decision, Watts told the paper: “The policy puts all leaders in a really difficult position.

“It contradicts other inclusion policies — for certain faith communities for instance — and it completely contradicts existing policies around informed parental consent.”

In a statement, Girlguiding said: “Two individuals were found to have breached our volunteer code of conduct and social media policy and sanctions have been applied accordingly.”

It hasn’t quite ended there, though. The story was soon picked up on by other media outlets and on Tuesday, it was a key feature on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, as Piers Morgan debated the issue with a trans-activist, declaring: “It’s very problematic, and to pretend that it’s not, and to pretend that it doesn’t cause a lot of people concern is in itself, I think, wrong.”

Good Morning Britain covered the story on Tuesday
Good Morning Britain covered the story on Tuesday
Ken McKay/ITV/REX/Shutterstock

In response, Girlguiding “set the record straight” with a statement from their chief guide and acting chief executive.

Amanda Medler and Ruth Marvel said: “As an organisation we pride ourselves on caring for every individual. Simply being transgender does not make someone more of a safeguarding risk than any other person.

“Amidst all the noise we try to remain focused on the children and young people that we support.

“We call ourselves a movement because we change with the times, whilst staying focused on our core values and purpose, and we will continue to do just that.”

What’s Next?

Girlguiding’s policies are all constantly under review but given their latest statement, it seems unlikely that they’ll backtrack on this one.

Meanwhile, Watts and the other expelled guide have stated they will take legal action if their positions are not reinstated. Girlguiding have not addressed the pair’s legal plans.

There has been continued media interest in the debate and on 27 September 2018, The Times reported on another section, which explains that children born female who are transitioning to become boys will not be allowed to be part of the Guides. This means that any who are already members before doing so will need to leave.

Its scrutiny comes more than a year-and-a-half since the policy was announced and a spokesperson for Girlguiding told the paper: “We’ve had advice from Stonewall and Gendered Intelligence and continue to review our policy as new guidance and best practice emerges.”


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