Labour to rip up school transgender ban

Bridget Phillipson said guidance contained 'partisan and unnecessary language'
Bridget Phillipson said guidance contained 'partisan and unnecessary language' - BBC/Jeff Overs

Labour would ditch guidelines banning children from being taught that there are more than two genders, a shadow minister has suggested.

Bridget Phillipson said that guidance announced by the Conservatives earlier this year on what pupils could be taught about sex and gender would be reviewed by a Labour government.

The Tory guidance proposed a ban on schools teaching gender ideology – which states that people can be born the wrong sex and that they can change their identity to the opposite sex or other categories such as “non-binary”.

It also stated that teachers must point out that there are two biological sexes.

Asked three times if she would keep the ban or ditch it, Ms Phillipson refused to answer directly but said: “There are trans people within society and their existence should be recognised.”

She also said: “Many aspects of the draft had good and straightforward principles in it. Other elements of it, I think, drifted far too much into partisan and unnecessary language.”

Last night, Ms Phillipson’s comments were criticised by the Education Secretary. Gillian Keegan warned that they showed Labour would “play politics with the lives of our children”.

Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, is set to visit a school on Monday on the general election campaign trail and is likely to be asked about the comments.

He has previously struggled to answer questions over trans ideology and women’s rights, and was criticised in April 2023 after stating that “99.9 per cent of women… haven’t got a penis”. Last week he changed his position and said that a woman has a vagina and a man has a penis.

Mrs Keegan said that Labour must now urgently change course on what it would allow to be taught in schools.

She said: “The shadow education secretary confirmed this morning that a Labour government would play politics with the lives of our children by ripping up guidance on gender-questioning children, effectively allowing contested gender ideology to be taught in the classroom.

“This is no surprise when in Wales, Labour continue to recommend teaching divisive and factually incorrect gender ideology whilst keeping parents in the dark about what their kids are seeing.

“The Labour Party must urgently change course to put the protection and welfare of all children first.”

Labour would replace rules which require transgender people to live as their preferred gender for two years with a two-year cooling off period after someone submits their application for a Gender Recognition Certificate, The Times reported.

A Conservative source also said: “Under Labour, children will be taught to question their gender and parents will be kept in the dark.

“This is really worrying for parents and a nightmare for teachers grappling with a sensitive issue.

“Starmer is visiting a school today and must overrule his shadow education secretary. Instead of reopening this and stoking division, Starmer should accept the sensible guidance and put the safety of children first.”

It comes after JK Rowling, a former Labour member and donor, said she would struggle to vote for the party “as long as Labour remains dismissive and often offensive towards women” fighting to retain their rights amid concern over demands by trans activists.

The party has been accused of ignoring women’s concerns about biological men gaining access to single-sex spaces, including those raised by members of their own party such as Rosie Duffield.

Both Sir Keir and Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary, have insisted on the campaign trail that they are committed to protecting single-sex wards in the NHS.

However, Labour has also vowed to make it easier for people who identify as transgender to change gender by obtaining a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) signed off by a single family doctor.

Under current laws, a panel of doctors and lawyers has to approve GRCs, which the party has called “futile and dehumanising”.

Guidance drawn up by Mrs Keegan in May states that schools should not teach gender identity. It is currently out for consultation and has not yet come into effect.

The guidance was unveiled in the wake of the Cass review into support for children who think they are trans, which urged caution around allowing children to take steps to change their gender.

Rishi Sunak originally ordered the review into relationships, sex and health education lessons last year in response to claims that what was being taught was age-inappropriate, extreme and sexualising, including that children were being taught claims such as there are 72 different genders.

On Friday, Kemi Badenoch, the equalities minister, told The Telegraph that she was “very, very worried” that Labour would “undo the work we have done on gender-questioning guidance for children”.

Kemi Badenoch said she was concerned that Labour would 'undo the work we have done on gender-questioning guidance for children'
Kemi Badenoch said she was concerned that Labour would 'undo the work we have done on gender-questioning guidance for children' - Christopher Pledger

Asked on the BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg whether she would keep the guidance on banning the teaching of gender identity, Ms Phillipson repeatedly refused to do so.

“School leaders across the country want clarity on how to manage what is a sensitive and difficult area for them,” she said.

“We absolutely do need to see guidance and a Labour government, if we win the trust of the British people, will make sure that happens.

“But let’s make sure that children’s wellbeing is at the heart of this. Let’s stop this being a political football. This is our children’s lives and their wellbeing. It’s too important to make this a culture wars issue on the front pages of newspapers. Let’s take a more responsible approach.”

Asked again on the specific issue of gender identity, she said she wanted to listen to responses to the consultation.

“If I was education secretary, I want to look at all of the responses that we’ve received to the consultation.”

Asked whether she would “ditch the ban on teaching the concept of gender identity”, she replied: “There are trans people within society and their existence should be recognised…

“Many trans people are vulnerable and are deserving of support. Alongside that, we’ve got to make sure that schools have got clear guidance about how best to support children and young people that are experiencing distress and issues around their wellbeing.

“That is not well served by ministers picking fights, seeking headlines. Let’s take a more responsible approach. Let’s take the heat out of it. Let’s do this properly and seriously.”

Kuenssberg then asked the shadow education secretary about JK Rowling’s comments that she was not sure she could vote Labour any more over the position the party had taken over the balance between the rights of women and transgender people.

JK Rowling accused Sir Keir Starmer of 'abandoning women'
JK Rowling accused Sir Keir Starmer of 'abandoning women' - BRUCE GLIKAS/FILMMAGIC

Writing in the Times, the author wrote that she had a “poor opinion” of Sir Keir’s character and claimed he was “dismissive and often offensive” about women’s concerns over sex-based rights.

The author added that she was considering supporting an independent candidate standing in her constituency who was “campaigning to clarify the Equality Act”.

Ms Phillipson replied: “I’m genuinely sorry to hear that because I have a real degree of respect for JK Rowling and all the work that she’s done. On raising awareness about violence against women and girls, and that’s personal to me, too. I would say, let’s look at the work that Labour has done before in this area and what we’re committed to doing now.

“We will halve violence and violence against women and girls. We will make sure that those responsible face the full consequences of the law.”

She added: “I want to make sure that women get the support and the justice that they deserve, and that we do make sure that we’ve got services that are available for women around rape and sexual violence.

“And there are important provisions already there within the Equality Act that allow for single-sex provision. And it’s important those are maintained.

“But let’s alongside that, make sure that trans people get the support that they need. I don’t believe it’s an either/or.”

Feminist campaign groups criticised Ms Phillipson’s responses on the teaching of gender identity in schools.

Maya Forstater, chief executive of women’s rights group Sex Matters, said: “Sex Matters welcomed the previous government’s sex education guidance, which instructed schools to move away from evidence-free claims that everyone has a gender identity, or that sex is a spectrum or can be changed.

“It is encouraging that Bridget Phillipson agrees that such guidance is necessary and that she prioritises the wellbeing of children. She’s also right that this issue is too important to be politicised. So it was disappointing to hear her respond to questions about the Government’s work on this topic as ‘culture wars’.

“The content that has been pushed into PSHE lessons by trans lobby groups over the years is not only nonsense, but regressive and misleading.

“It’s time to recognise that those seeking to root harmful and evidence-free transgender ideology out of schools are primarily concerned about child safeguarding.”

Stephanie Davies-Arai, director of Transgender Trend, said: “We hope the careful and serious work done by Kemi Badenoch, Gillian Keegan and others will not be wasted by a Labour government.”

A Labour spokesman said: “Labour will take forward the draft gender-questioning guidance to give schools clarity on how our education system should support all young people.

“If elected, a Labour government will review the responses to the Government’s consultation, which are currently unpublished, to ensure guidance provides much-needed clarity for children, teachers and parents.

“Labour’s priority is the wellbeing of every child. We will deliver guidance which supports schools to navigate this.”