Watchdog criticised over proposal to ask schoolchildren about sex and gender
The equalities watchdog has come under criticism after suggesting schoolchildren should be asked about their sexual orientation and gender identity.
Gender critical campaign groups Sex Matters and Transgender Trend have written to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) raising concerns about the recommendation in a report published earlier this week.
In the Equality and Human Rights Monitor, the EHRC said the Government should gather data on how the sexual orientation and gender identity of pupils affects experiences of bullying.
The recommendation says the Office for National Statistics, Department for Education and the Scottish and Welsh Governments should “conduct research and collect data on the experience of bullying in schools and education for children under 18, broken down by protected characteristics including sexual orientation and gender reassignment”.
But the campaigners warned it is a safeguarding issue and called for the recommendation to be withdrawn.
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Maya Forstater, executive director at Sex Matters, said: “It’s truly shocking that the equality watchdog is recommending that children who could be as young as five or six be asked about their sexual orientation and gender identity.
“This totally inappropriate suggestion should have been rejected on safeguarding grounds as soon as it was raised.
“It is deeply concerning that it somehow passed all checks to end up as the lead recommendation in a key report.
“This recommendation needs to be revoked immediately and the EHRC must commit to urgently reviewing and strengthening its safeguarding framework so no such failure is allowed to happen again.”
The letter to EHRC chair Baroness Kishwer Falkner states that the recommendation is “incompatible with safeguarding” and should be “urgently reviewed and withdrawn”.
It says: “The recommendation tells public bodies to tell schools to survey children about feelings of sexual attraction (to people of the same sex, the opposite sex or both) and also whether they feel themselves to have a gender identity that is the same as or different from their body.
“These are adult concepts, and introducing them to children as identities they are expected to have and inviting them to declare them in response to adult questioning has clear child welfare implications.”
The letter adds that it is “inappropriate framing of bullying”, saying: “Bullying is not because of a feature of a child, but it is a behaviour of the bully.”
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The letter – seen by the Express – is signed by Ms Forstater, Sex Matters director of advocacy Helen Joyce and Transgender Trend director Stephanie Davies-Arai.
The Equality and Human Rights Monitor, published on Thursday, is described by the watchdog as the “most comprehensive review of how Britain is performing on equality and human rights”.
A spokesperson for the EHRC said: “This week we published our Equality and Human Rights Monitor report.
“It represents the most extensive assessment of Britain’s equality human rights landscape, using a robust, data driven approach to identify key challenges.
“Our report and its recommendations aim to inform discussions and decision making, promoting action and supporting tangible progress.
“As with all correspondence we receive, we will carefully consider this letter concerning one of the report’s recommendations, and take action where appropriate.”
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