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"Nothing more than a phase"? Open letter to MP about trans young people

An open letter from SAYiT CEO to Nick Fletcher, Conservative MP for Don Valley, challenges his views that being trans is "nothing more than a phase".

A person with eyeshadow in the colour of the trans pride flag

Nearly 7 in 10 trans young people have been subjected to death threats at school, while LGBT+ school pupils are twice as likely to be bullied as their cis, straight counterparts. Yet Nick Fletcher, Conservative MP for Don Valley, has written to every school in his constituency to talk about the "transgender lifestyle", reminiscent of the past when the "gay lifestyle" was the focus of much ire.

In his letter, Fletcher says that "boys are boys and girls are girls" and that books and the media "affirm something that is nothing more than a phase". He goes on to argue that, for schools, "a push back on this is desperately needed".

(This is the same Nick Fletcher who said in a Parliamentary debate that men commit crimes because women have taken lead roles in Doctor Who and Ghostbusters.)

Heather Paterson, CEO at Sheffield LGBT+ youth charity SAYiT, wrote an open letter to the MP and Nadhim Zahawi the Education Secretary, which we are publishing with permission.

Open Letter to Nadhim Zahawi Education Secretary and Nick Fletcher MP for Don Valley

I am contacting you both in regard to comments you have made regarding trans and non-binary young people and those questioning their gender identity in school.

I am currently the CEO of SAYiT, the largest LGBTQ+ youth charity in the region, and have worked with LGBTQ+, women's and equality groups for 23 years. I am also a gay woman.

While you have both chosen to make public statements regarding this issue, it is clearly not your area of knowledge, expertise, or personal lived experience. You both claim to hold your positions based on supporting the welfare and safeguarding of young people, therefore taking this on face value, I am sure you would wish to have any areas of misinformation corrected and to be made aware of any unintended potential harm resulting from your comments.

In response to Nadhim Zahawi suggestion that teachers should out trans pupils to their parents: 'Tory education minister Nadhim Zahawi suggests teachers should out trans kids to their parents' (Pink News, April 21, 2022)

Coming out is a personal process that all people, young people included, should be entitled to do at a time and pace they feel comfortable with. Outing a young person without their consent can have negative mental health implications, and the fear of being outed may prevent a young person from speaking to teachers or other professionals, leaving them isolated and without support.

We are acutely aware that support for LGBTQ+ young people, as it is in many other sectors, is vastly under funded and under resourced, and where parents or carers are identified as a positive source of support would actively encourage young people to speak with them if they feel comfortable to do so. However, this must be their decision and we must also be aware of potential safeguarding risks in this. While many parents are supportive, this sadly is not the case for all young people.

Outing a young person may result in them being evicted from their home and the impact of that on their future life prospects. 50% of LGBTQ+ young people said they feared that expressing their LGBTQ+ identity to family members would lead to them being evicted (AKT LGBTQ+ Youth Homelessness Report, 2021) and this is reflected in youth homelessness figures which shows many as 24% of young homeless people are LGBT (LGBT Youth Homelessness: A UK national scoping of cause, prevalence, response, and outcome).

The reports above also show that one in six (16 per cent) of LGBTQ+ young people were forced to do sexual acts against their will by family members before they became homeless and almost two thirds (61 per cent) of LGBTQ+ young people felt frightened or threatened by their family members before they became homeless.

Other potential risks include so-called honour-based abuse, forced marriage, other violence and abuse and mental health impacts. All of this should be considered when safeguarding young people. It is clear that a blanket policy of outing young people does not take any of this into consideration and poses potential risk of harm.

In response to Nick Fletcher's letter sent to schools in his constituency this week: 'MP Nick Fletcher schools letter says trans 'nothing more than a phase' (BBC, June 17, 2022)

Nick continues to perpetuate the myth that trans young people are being rushed through a medical pathway. The reality is that the current waiting list for a first appointment with a Gender Identity Clinic (GIC) is now four years and continuing to rise. No surgery is offered in the UK to under 18s and puberty blockers which are used to offer time to think before any further decisions are made are only offered in a small number of cases due to the difficulty in accessing the services due to waiting times detailed above and that they are only suitable for use at the relevant tanner stage of development which has often been passed by the time a young person accesses a GIC.

When we talk about young people transitioning, in the vast majority of cases we are talking about social transition (e.g., changes to names, pronouns, presentation including hair and clothing) none of which is permanent and has been shown repeatedly to be beneficial to young people's mental health.

Nick suggests that young people are being actively encouraged to be trans, however we have anti-trans articles daily in the mainstream media, the highest levels of hate crime on record, high rates of bullying in schools, if anything trans people in the UK currently are actively discouraged from coming out or pursuing transition.

If Nadhim and Nick want to support the health and well-being of young people whether they are trans/nonbinary/LGBTQ+ or questioning their identity, then they could look at addressing the length of waiting lists for specialist NHS support, the wider underfunding of the LGBTQ+ sector, the withdrawal of government funding for anti-bullying initiatives in schools, addressing the rising levels of hate crime etc rather than trying to tell trans young people that them simply shouldn't exist.

I urge you both to consider the impact of your statements. As your comments have been made in the public domain, I have also responded publicly, but would welcome further conversation with either or both of you if you wish to develop your understanding in this area.


Heather Paterson


Now Then has approached Nick Fletcher for his response and will add it to this article when it arrives.

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