Church of England Urges Schools to Let Kids Explore Their Gender Identity

The Church of England has issued updated guidance with the aim of reducing bullying in schools. In a trans-affirming statement, the report advocates for letting boys and girls explore their gender identity.

In the UK, the Church of England presides over approximately 4,700 schools. Like other religiously affiliated schools, these facilities must still adhere to education standards set by the government, but they are given allowances for teaching in a manner that accords with their faith — that is, so long as they follow equality laws and other educational safeguards.

This month, as part of its commitment to fostering a nurturing environment in schools, the Church of England offered advice on how schools can tackle bullying problems, as well as suggestions for how teachers can sensitively approach difficult topics.

Included in that guidance is a clear and uncompromising call to protect children from anti-LGBT bullying and a strong argument for allowing children to explore their identities.

Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, explained:

All bullying, including homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying causes profound damage, leading to higher levels of mental health disorders, self-harm, depression and suicide. Central to Christian theology is the truth that every single one of us is made in the image of God. Every one of us is loved unconditionally by God. This guidance helps schools to offer the Christian message of love, joy and celebration of our humanity without exception or exclusion.

This update to the Church’s “Valuing All God’s Children’s Report,” also specifically rejects transphobic and biphobic bullying, noting that schools must be welcoming and nurturing environments for all children:

In the early years context and throughout primary school, play should be a hallmark of creative exploration. Pupils need to be able to play with the many cloaks of identity (sometimes quite literally with the dressing up box). Children should be at liberty to explore the possibilities of who they might be without judgement or derision. For example, a child may choose the tutu, princess’s tiara and heels and/or the fireman’s helmet, tool belt and superhero cloak, without expectation or comment.

Other parts of the guidance rally against anti-trans, homophobic and biphobic bullying and reiterate the Church’s stance that, no matter the religious ethos that may underpin adult beliefs about sexuality and gender identity, school is no place for prejudice or bullying. For example, the report states that same-gender relationships may be mentioned as “facts” of some people’s lives. Clearly this is not an endorsement, but it allows for nuance in the way that teachers approach this topic.

The presence of evangelicals in the General Synod was one of the main retarding forces to the appointment of women bishops. However, while conservatives continue to push back on gay marriage, the Archbishop has emphasized the need for tolerance and inclusion. Perhaps most significantly of all,  he has refused to weaponize religion as a means to discriminate against LGBT people.

For example, while the UK has seen several examples of the “cake shop” wars that have plagued the U.S., the Church of England as a central body has refused to enter the legal discussion. Instead, the institution has often confined itself to commentary about inclusion and respect for identities of all kinds.

And this updated guidance couldn’t come at a better time. The UK’s right-wing media has recently embarked upon what commentators have called ”manufactured rage” and “moral panic” over transgender rights. Even liberal media outlets, like the Independent, appear to be embarking on false equivalence and false balance that risks hurting trans people.

Partly, this sentiment seems linked to the British government’s attempts to reform gender recognition that would uncouple the process from antiquated medicalization and instead focus on a person’s right to self-determine — an approach that has been successfully deployed in nations like Ireland and Argentina. But there has also been a documented rise in anti-trans arguments imported from the U.S.

For example, the “bathroom bills” that have been used to fight trans-inclusive legislation in the U.S. are now appearing in mainstream media throughout the UK. And that’s despite the fact that law analysts, law enforcement professionals and wider case studies have all thoroughly debunked the myth that trans-inclusive legislation leads to increased sexual violence against women.

The Church of England’s call for greater inclusivity and affirmation of young children as they explore their gender has had a ripple effect, too. Several other religious commentators, like Senior Rabbi of the Movement for Reform Judaism Laura Janner-Klausner, have called upon their faith leaders to follow the Church of England’s example. In many cases, this would mean clarifying policies of inclusion that are already in place.

In a sea of often disheartening news surrounding LGBT rights and gender identity, the Church of England has offered a rare opportunity for forward momentum. Of course, this report will only mean something if the guidance is fully implemented. Even so, the Church’s statement of intent is a good a start.

Photo Credit: Kelly Sikkema/Unsplash

92 comments

Marie W
Marie W1 months ago

thanks for sharing

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DAVID f
Dave fleming4 months ago

noted

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Jerome S
Jerome S5 months ago

thanks

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Jerome S
Jerome S5 months ago

thanks

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Jim V
Jim Ven5 months ago

thanks for sharing

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Jim V
Jim Ven5 months ago

thanks for sharing

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DAVID fleming
Dave fleming6 months ago

Its about time

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Maureen G
Maureen G6 months ago

Interesting reading.

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Jerome S
Jerome S6 months ago

thanks

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Jerome S
Jerome S6 months ago

thanks

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