There needs to be more public education about the issues transgender children face, so they are not afraid to ask for help if they’re bullied, the CEO of a transgender children’s charity has said.
Susie Green, from Mermaids UK, issued her comments in response to the news that a Christian couple are preparing to mount a legal challenge against their child’s school after a boy, who was born a girl, came into class wearing a dress.
Nigel and Sally Rowe have their children’s best intentions at heart, but Green believes their actions demonstrate a lack of understanding about transgender children and what they go through.
“It defeats me why people think it’s okay to say how other families and young people should live their lives,” Green told HuffPost UK. “It doesn’t affect them. It’s not going to affect their children.
“The only person it does affect is the young person who has transitioned, as they can now live their lives authentically and be themselves.”
The Rowes are planning to mount a legal challenge against the school and will now homeschool their son.
On BBC 4′s Today programme on Monday 11 September, dad Nigel Rowe said: “I don’t believe it’s that [transgender children] are not accepted. I don’t think people are bullying those children in any shape or form.
“I don’t think that’s the case.”
Green believes this lack of awareness about the reality of the difficulties transgender children can face at school is harmful.
“If children aren’t supported, we know what happens,” she said. “45% of trans youth have tried to attempt suicide at least once, 54% are bullied and one in nine have received death threats.”
Green was citing statistics from the 2017 Stonewall report, that looked into the experiences of lesbian, gay, bi and trans (LGBT) pupils. At the time, the chief executive of the charity, Ruth Hunt, said the findings for trans people were shocking.
“For trans pupils in particular, the findings are alarming,” Hunt said. “While a growing number of schools are supporting their trans pupils, too many are not equipped to do so. It is vital that this is remedied as a matter of urgency.”
Green added: “All of the research shows categorically when young people are supported to socially transition, they are happy, confident and their mental health is on a par with the rest of the population.”
The good news is that there is a rise in awareness of the issues these children face and Green said attitudes are starting to shift.
There is evidence of this in an increase in the number of people willing to seek support.
In 2013/14, Mermaids UK had 400 emails and phone calls over a year. This increased to 4,000 in the year 2016/17. The same increase can be seen in the number of families on their parents’ group, increasing from 400 to 1,000 over the same time period.
And this shift in attitude towards greater acceptance of transgender children was evident when we asked mums and dads on the HuffPost UK Parents Facebook page how they felt about the couple considering legal action against the school.
“The parents of the trans children would not have taken the decision lightly and I think it’s a good starting point to teach children about diversity and acceptance,” one person wrote.
“Kids don’t really care if someone is a girl or a boy, they care about things like what their favourite colour is and who watches the same cartoon as them.”
Another wrote: “If any boys wore dresses to my children’s school I wouldn’t think anything of it.
“We are now in a world where there are LGBT people and they’re not afraid to show their true selves - good for them, so they should.”
And another commented: “Who are they to tell a child they don’t know their own identity? It will only add to the issues they face, not make life easier.
“The earlier all kids accept transgender people, the easier life becomes. Society as a whole will improve if the next generation are raised to accept differences and embrace diversity.”
Despite positive moves towards acceptance, Green believes that the Rowes’ high profile complaint reinforces the myth that trans young people have something to be ashamed of.
“And why?” she said. “This little girl has been saying since she has been able to articulate that she is a girl. Her parents are supporting her to be herself. So why is that an issue?
“Most people have met someone who is trans but wouldn’t know - and the reason we are getting more young people coming forward for support is because they are able to talk about it earlier and parents have got the knowledge to think how best to support them.
“We need this to continue.”
For information and support:
Mermaids UK offers family and individual support for gender diverse and transgender children and young people. Call: 0344 334 0550.