A High Court judge has ruled that two parents can launch a legal challenge to what are described as trans-affirming policies in British primary schools. Christian parents Nigel and Sally Rowe have been fighting their case since 2017, and have now been granted permission to take their case to a judicial review.
In 2017, the Rowes were forced to educate their children at home after their sons’ Church of England primary school said that children attending the school could be labelled ‘transphobic’ bullies for not being trans-affirming. The school said that Rowes’ son, aged six, would be thought of as transphobic if he expressed confusion when a pupil he knew as a boy was wearing a dress, school officials told the parents.
The parents from the Isle of Wight were the first to speak publicly on the impact they felt trans-affirming policies were having on primary schools in the UK. Supported by the Christian Legal Centre, Nigel and Sally Rowe wrote to the Department for Education, calling for the Secretary of State for Education to intervene in their case. But he declined, making the claim that the matter was unrelated to education, and rather, was about meeting the needs of children.
Christian Concern reports that Lord Justice Lane has now ruled it was arguable that education had a wider definition than the Secretary of State for Education was describing; that it was more than ‘textbooks and curriculum’; that the culture and sex education policies set by the school could be described as education.
Lord Lane also said that it could be argued that the Secretary of State had failed to pay due regard to the scientific evidence the Rowes had put forward.
The Rowes’ older son was withdrawn from the school in 2015 by his parents after a pupil, born a male, identified as a girl and wore female clothes – causing their son to experience confusion. Two years later, in 2017, another pupil joined the school, identifying as “gender-fluid,” changing their appearance from one day to the next.
Sally and Nigel Rowe again expressed concerns that their son was confused by the behaviour of another pupil. It was at this stage that the parents received a letter stating that children exhibiting confusion would be classed as ‘transphobic’.
The couple recently released the letter they received from their son’s Church of England school on the Isle of Wight in response. The letter from the school’s head teacher and the chairwoman of the governors warned that children would be viewed as ‘transphobic’ if they demonstrated an “inability to believe a transgender person is actually a ‘real’ female of male”.
Pupils would also be perceived as transphobic if they displayed “feelings of discomfort and inability to trust or connect with someone based on their transgender status” as well as a refusal to use an “adopted name or using gender inappropriate pronouns”, the letter stated.
In their legal action, the Rowes said that the school in question adopted the so-called Cornwall schools transgender guidelines, which they strongly disagree with based on their Christian faith.
The guidelines, drafted in 2015, advise that schools create gender-neutral bathrooms and permit pupils to wear clothes they feel are ‘reflective of their gender identity,’ as opposed to their biological sex as male or female.
Subsequently, the parents withdrew both their sons from school and have now been granted permission for a judicial challenge to the Department of Education’s decision to disseminate the guidelines for state schools in England.
A full hearing is set to take place in three to six months and the Department of Education is challenging the parents’ claim.
In an interview with The Times, Mr Rowe, 48, said “one of the main issues we struggled with in relation to the letter was that it said that if our six-year-old son did not recognise the other boy as a little girl or a little boy, then he would be deemed transphobic. And our son had to use the correct pronouns.
“I don’t think that a six-year-old has the cognisant ability to work that out, especially if the child is gender-fluid. And the letter also said that we as parents would be deemed to be transphobic if we didn’t accept that position.”
The Rowes are now permitted to teach both their children at home because their mother, Sally, is a qualified primary school teacher. However, their father, Nigel Rowe, has said that speaking out has caused difficulties for the family in the community.
Mr Rowe told The Times that speaking out in opposition to transgender policies, even in the case of children’s education, will create hostility and make you unpopular. He said others who silently agree with their stance feel they have to ‘whisper’ their support because they are ‘scared’ of speaking out because of the inevitable backlash they would face for supporting the couple more publicly.
“When you put your head above the parapet on an issue like this you are highly unpopular,” Mr Rowe said. “There was no way we could go back to the school. We weren’t welcome. And other schools here would have had problems with the fact that we were parents who had raised this issue.
“We felt it was a hostile environment. This is a very small community on the Isle of Wight.”
The parents, who have now been essentially ostracised from the school, said they previously had a good relationship with the school, having been involved with school leaders and in school activities, including Bible teaching sessions.
“We did assemblies once a week, and my wife ran Bible teaching sessions,” said Mr Rowe.
The Rowes, who belong to the Maranatha Christian Fellowship, a non-conformist church, said that school officials remained civil yet distant in light of the litigation.
Mrs Rowe, however, added that her family had received some hostile reactions, including being subject to verbal abuse.
“We have had verbal abuse from some of the parents,” she said, adding that one member of the school’s staff shouted at her in front of the Rowe’s home. “Shame on you — you shouldn’t even be showing your face in Freshwater,” the staff member said.
Mrs Rowe added that, while walking past with their child, two parents said: “Don’t talk to Sally, she’s done something really bad. And some just completely blank us. And one couple makes rude gestures to us if they drive past.”
She said: “We know that there are parents at the school who support us. But they have to whisper their support, that’s how scared they are of speaking out.”
Nigel Rowe told The Times that the broader point behind the judicial review was to challenge “a form of contagion in the school system”. He said that “there is a huge rise in issues around transgenderism and children and the question is why? It seems to be a fad and people have been afraid to criticise.
“But now the medical establishment is beginning to see that. We need to get back to a reasonable standard of science and biology on this issue. There are men and women. Some people may feel that they are not male or female, but you will never genetically be the opposite sex.”
A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “We recognise that issues relating to gender identity can be complex and sensitive. Schools are best placed to work with parents, pupils and public services to decide what is best for individual children and what is best for all others in the school.”
In Ireland, questions have been raised relating to why teachers are being told to ‘introduce transgenderism’ to four-year-olds. In May, Gript reported that Irish teachers were being advised to introduce transgenderism to children in Junior Infants in new guidelines from the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) and the Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO).
The NCCA have also told teachers of Junior and Senior Infants (where children are typically between 4 and 6 years old) to tell schoolkids that “there’s no such thing as boys’ (or girls’) clothes (or haircuts, toys, colours.)”
Teachers union, the INTO has drawn up a list of reading materials on the topic saying the books and accompanying exercises for Junior and Senior Infants seek to encourage school children “to challenge their own concepts and ideas” around gender identity – whether they feel they are actually a boy or a girl.
One mum told Gript that the NCCA were “assuming the consent of parents” and “actively driving an agenda which could confuse and potentially harm young children”.