Section 28 (2.0): why we can’t be willfully blind or performative allies & who benefits from the polarisation of sex versus gender?

The new Section 28

The rhetoric around transgender rights and now the Times headline quoting Suella Braverman MP, the Conservatives UK government Attorney General, saying teachers should not be allowed to “pander” to trans students is Section 28 reborn! If you ignore it, you do so willfully.

I lived through Section 28 in the 90s; it caused internalised homophobia, mental health and addiction issues in my twenties and eventual hospital detention in 2015. The consequences of it almost killed me.

I beg you, please, don’t let them do it again.

Most people walking past a newsstand or scrolling online will not read the full article; they will see the headline. The mainstream media is pushing a right-wing agenda for a government desperately clinging to power, whose populism is declining and need to stoke division. Quite frankly, it’s sick but worse than that, it’s dangerous.

To those who question whether children can know at a young age whether they are trans or not, I would say: I cannot speak to everyone’s experience, but I knew from a very early age that I was different to my peers and liked boys.

If a child feels they have gender dysphoria, should they not be able to explore this in school, supported by their teachers safely? Teachers who have the moral authority and are parental stand-ins in the classroom; teachers who have the inherent power over the child. During Section 28, this power was taken away from teachers.

Moreover, it’s important to note that trans individuals do not universally experience dysphoria; this phenomenon often stems from societal exclusion rather than something more innate. So, by banning teachers from supporting this freedom of exploration and growth, we increase the risk of dysphoria and “othering”. If we allow trans and non-binary children to grow and learn in supportive environments, are we not less likely to see less of this occurring?

To those who say should this not be kept in private: that is what they used to say about gay people. This language proves that history is repeating.

Some accuse a “militant trans group” of trying to force their ideals on everyone. I am not sure who this group is; I see no evidence of this occurring.

As with those calling for this to be kept in “private” and suggesting that these vulnerable children effectively closet themselves, this is the language and rhetoric fuelled by the far-right that they used to weaponise against gay people.

It is so transparent that it is sad. It is Section 28 (2.0); it is a dangerous step backwards against LGBTQ+ and human rights.

What is most troubling is this is also being espoused by some nurses and people working in healthcare. We are supposed to have a duty of care to everyone and treat everyone with unconditional positive regard.

Trans and non-binary colleagues, patients and family members can read what you say. Can you imagine what this is doing to them? Nurses, in particular, are the most trusted profession for a reason. We cannot betray that trust. We should not impose our views and opinions on others and let that affect our care. It is in opposition to our moral and ethical duty as nurses and against our regulatory Code.

The discussion of sex and gender is a complex minefield to wade through; it has become increasingly polarised. People have lost the sense of the middle ground and the ability to hold a critical conversation for fear of being called a bigot or a radical. Sex is predominantly binary (male or female) with the exception of some who are born intersex. Intersex individuals are born with any of several sex characteristics including chromosome patterns, gonads or genitalia who do not fit typical binary notions of male or female bodies. I have not met a trans person who disputes that scientific claim. Gender, however, is a social construct.

We should rightly protect women and safeguard women’s spaces. I agree, I wholeheartedly believe in this, and I work with vulnerable women every day.

But safeguarding women and defending trans rights are not mutually exclusive. They are not diametrically opposed to each other. We can be advocates and allies for women’s rights and trans rights. Sometimes, they are intersectional. Transwomen are women and need their rights need to be protected.

A small minority of men, evil men, are misappropriating trans identities and posing as transwomen to access spaces that should be safe for all women, transwomen and cisgender women (women who were born female at birth). The abhorrent actions of these evil men, this small minority, should not be used as a catalyst to exclude all trans individuals and paint them all as a threat. Who is stoking this fire? Who is the Puppet Master? Who benefits?

I implore us to question, who is benefiting from pitting those who support women’s rights and trans rights against one another? It’s undoubtedly not patients or families; it’s not our profession that looks like we are constantly locked in a battle over this issue. The far-right is stoking division and pitting us against one another.

Please, I beg you, stop; think about who this benefits and who gets hurt.

There is a need to engage with a broad church of perspectives and examine the evidence surrounding sex and gender in nursing. It is a highly nuanced, wide-scoping issue where polarisation is beneficial to none, not healthcare as a profession or individuals. And most definitely not for patients and their families who can see what’s being discussed openly online. We need to safeguard everyone’s psychological safety, patients and professionals alike, as this topic can be triggering.

Doing so means some challenging questions may need to be asked. Anecdotal lived experience is as vital in the evidence scope as is empirical data. How can nursing as an academic discipline navigate this well? How can this learning be cascaded down into practice, benefiting those who need it most, patients and their families?

Accusations of bigotry on either side are unhelpful. The terms trans rights activist (TRA) and trans-exclusionary feminist only serve to stoke further division and are weaponised against individuals on either side to silence.

There have been well-documented incidents online where people have been transphobic. For the avoidance of doubt, transphobia is when trans people are singled out, “othered”, made feel less than, victimised or subjected to prejudice and hatred based on their gender identity. If you don’t want to be accused of that, even unintentionally, then avoid doing all the above.

Lastly, allyship without commitment or a moral compass guiding you to defend others is performative. Use your voice; do more than say you’re an ally or wear a badge. More than ever, trans people need allies to take affirmative action as we head into Section 28 2.0.

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