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Church of England defends guidance urging acceptance of trans students' gender identity

A priest wears a rainbow ribbon during a vigil against Anglican Homophobia, outside the General Synod of the Church of England in London, Britain, February 15, 2017.
A priest wears a rainbow ribbon during a vigil against Anglican Homophobia, outside the General Synod of the Church of England in London, Britain, February 15, 2017. | (Photo: REUTERS/Hannah McKay)

The Church of England is defending the scrutinized guidance for its 4,700 primary schools on LGBT issues, claiming that it doesn't allow students as young as 5 to self-identify as the opposite sex.

"This is simply false," reads a statement issued by The Church of England in response to the United Kingdom-based group Christian Concern's complaint that the denomination's "Valuing All God's Children" guidance tells schools to affirm students' chosen gender identity as young as 5.

According to the Anglican denomination, the "Valuing All God's Children" guidance was first published in 2014 in response to research showing that "homophobic bullying was something which needed particular attention in Church schools." The document was rewritten in 2017 and updated again in 2019. 

"Valuing All God's Children does not say that children as young as five should be affirmed if they want to identify as the opposite gender. It doesn't use the language of affirmation at all, anywhere," the denomination's statement reads. "This is a misrepresentation of a resource which is designed to help schools ensure all children are treated with the dignity they deserve."

The Church of England's statement points to Chapter 9 discussing secondary schools, which states:

"It is also important that pupils can explore issues of sexual orientation, gender identity and other factors that make healthy self-embodiment challenging. Specifically it is important that pupils understand the issues for those who feel they are trans/transgender and may be in the process of transition, understanding the impact that bullying has on them."

The Church of England contends that the guidance "mirrors the government's Relationships, Sex and Health Education (RSHE) guidance" and aims to help "young people to value and respect everyone as cherished and loved by God, regardless of gender identity or sexuality."

The church further claims that it is not accurate to describe the guidance as having been influenced by the pro-LGBT organization Mermaids. 

"Mermaids had no involvement in or influence on the preparation of the guidance," the statement reads. "Valuing All God's Children does not recommend any particular third-party resource or organisation."

Christian Concern, the online ministry affiliated with the Christian Legal Centre, pushed back against the Church of England's statement. In a statement of its own, the group points to page 20 of the guidance, the beginning of a section highlighting "Particular issues for Church of England primary schools."

"In creating a school environment that promotes dignity for all and a call to live fulfilled lives as uniquely gifted individuals, pupils will be equipped to accept difference of all varieties and be supported to accept their own gender identity or sexual orientation and that of others," page 20 reads.

"In order to do this it will be essential to provide curriculum opportunities where difference is explored, same-sex relationships, same-sex parenting and transgender issues may be mentioned as a fact in some people's lives."

The denomination's guidance also states, "Children should be at liberty to explore the possibilities of who they might be without judgement or derision."

This section, Christian Concern argues, "cannot be read as anything other than advocating for affirming children as young as five if they wish to identify as the opposite gender."

On page 14, the guidance also states, "Schools must not discriminate (either directly or indirectly) against gender variant pupils, pupils who are perceived to be gender variant or pupils with trans parents. In the context of a school, indirect discrimination could include an inflexible uniform policy that creates a particular difficulty for trans pupils."

Christian Concern contends that the section essentially tells schools to affirm and accommodate pupils who wish to identify as the opposite gender, including by allowing them to dress in accordance with their gender identity. 

"It also fully affirms the concept of 'trans pupils.' In this respect, it entirely reflects the worldview and legal understanding of Mermaids rather than a Christian one," Christian Concern remarks.

Last month, Christian parents Nigel Rowe and his wife, Sally, wrote an open letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Justin Welby, raising concerns regarding the implementation of the guidance.

"Basic Christian teaching is that we are all created male or female and that the differences between the sexes are beautiful, designed and complementary, and should be respected in society," the Christian parents wrote. "We were also concerned for the harmful effects on the children who were allowed to socially transition, as well as the effects on all the other children in the school."

Years ago, the Rowes raised concerns about indoctrination after two 6-year-old boys in their sons' classes at the Isle of Wight school were allowed to identify as girls.

In 2017, CofE officials told the Rowes that the school did not require any evaluation when a student requests to be affirmed as a member of the opposite sex. The family was then given an ultimatum to accept the policy or take their sons out of the school. When the Rowes' complaint to the Department of Education was rejected, they took legal action in 2021 against the department.

In September, the Rowes were awarded over $23,900 in legal costs and a commitment from the British government to reform trans-affirming policies in schools.

"This notorious guidance actually says that children as young as 5 years old should be affirmed by Church of England schools if they wish to identify as the opposite sex," the couple wrote in the open letter.

In their letter, the couple cited a speech made by the then Attorney General Suella Braverman in August.

"The problem is that many schools and teachers believe — incorrectly — that they are under an absolute legal obligation to treat children who are gender questioning according to their preference, in all ways and all respects, from preferred pronouns to use of facilities and competing in sports," said Braverman. "All this is sometimes taking place without informing their parents or taking into account the impact on other children. Anyone who questions such an approach is accused of transphobia. In my view, this approach is not supported by the law."

Braverman said no student "should be made to fear punishment or disadvantage for questioning what they are being taught, or refusing to adopt a preferred pronoun for a gender questioning child, or complaining about a gender questioning child using their toilets or changing rooms, or refusing to take part in activities promoted by Stonewall or other such organizations."

"The right to freedom of belief, thought, conscience and speech must be protected," she said.

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