I was sacked for being a ‘transphobe’ – because I wouldn’t call a female pupil by a boy’s name: Kevin is just one of dozens of teachers on the front line of a culture war being vilified by colleagues for voicing their concerns over children changing gender
When maths teacher Kevin Lister received a message from his 17-year-old student, Lizzie, telling him she would now like to be called Liam, he was concerned.
It was September 2021, only days into the new term at the college where he worked in the South West, and Lizzie had previously shown no signs of wanting to identify as a boy.
‘I’d experienced this in my previous school, where a girl had wanted to transition,’ says Kevin, a 60-year-old father of two. ‘I’d had no idea about gender ideology at the time and raised concerns but went along with it, calling her by a different name and he/him pronouns.
‘But at parents’ evening, when I had referred to the pupil as “him”, the parents referred to “her” throughout. They didn’t challenge me, but it made things rather awkward.
Legal action: Maths teacher Kevin Lister
‘So, I’d already had my fingers burnt. I read up extensively on the problem and learned of serious long-term medical complications associated with transitioning.’
When the issue rose again, Kevin raised a safeguarding concern with the college, asking whether Lizzie’s parents had been told of her request (they had not, although Kevin found this out only later) and whether Lizzie was aware of the potential long-term ramifications of such a decision.
He also queried whether there was a risk of her self-medicating with cross-sex hormones (unavailable to under-18s without prescription, but accessible off-prescription online) as this would violate the college’s drug policy.
Kevin says he was uncomfortable ‘socially transitioning’ (using different names and pronouns) his student until these concerns had been addressed.
Crucially, he also says his bosses never gave him any written guidance. Instead, they expected staff to make decisions on their own, presumably to avoid any liability for the management. But Kevin’s well-intentioned report sparked a chain of events that would turn his life upside down.
Five months later, he was suspended on full pay for ‘transphobia’. And last September, he was sacked for ‘gross misconduct’ and reported to the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) for a safeguarding violation, which he claims is preposterous and vehemently denies. He is now taking legal action against the college for wrongful dismissal and discrimination.
Kevin’s story, though far from unique, reveals the extent to which gender ideology has infiltrated our educational establishments, confusing teachers and pupils alike.
It is also the perfect illustration of how teachers in UK schools have effectively been put on the front line of this brave new world of gender politics, but with precious little back-up or official guidance to call on when circumstances become fraught, as they so often do.
Last month, the Mail published my investigation into school children who are being ‘socially transitioned’ without their parents’ consent — with requests from parents not to refer to their child using different names or pronouns ignored by teachers. I was surprised by the number of desperate teachers, from primary schools to further educational colleges, who contacted me after they’d read my article.
They spoke of the ‘enormous pressure’ they face to socially transition students — some as young as five — whether their parents are involved or not.
Some, like Kevin, have expressed concerns and have lost their jobs. Others have been threatened with disciplinary action.
To some, it feels very much like being thrown to the wolves. The Department for Education last issued guidance in 2020, saying teachers in England should work together with parents on any decisions concerning a school’s treatment of a child.
Last week, it was reported that the DfE will give teachers further official advice ‘later this year’, in which they will be warned against socially transitioning children who question their gender.
Yet the teachers we spoke to say that clearer official guidance is needed now.
Three days after he’d raised concerns, Kevin heard that the college would not be telling Lizzie’s parents about her name change. In UK law, children over 16 can self-certify a new name, via what’s known as an ‘unenrolled deed poll’ (unlike a change made via an enrolled deed poll, for which you need to be 18, not all organisations will accept this), depending on the circumstances.
Kevin says: ‘As a parent, I would have been furious. Shortly after this, the college’s safeguarding policy was updated to say we had to work in partnership with parents. I was now in a really difficult position.
‘I knew there was no parental consent, but I also knew I would be in trouble for “deadnaming” [using her previous name], so when I needed her attention in class, I’d gesture at her — something the college later said was “harassment by pointing”.’
Kevin’s uncertainty over how to handle this delicate situation was compounded a month later by the student asking to be considered for an external girls-only maths competition.
‘I said, “Of course you can — you’re still a girl” and I wrote Lizzie on the board with other contestants’ names. She subsequently entered the competition. I wondered if she was having second thoughts about her transition. After all, why enter a girls-only competition when you’re telling people you want to be called by a boy’s name?’
Three months later, in January 2022, Lizzie’s friend told Kevin to use male pronouns for Lizzie/Liam. Kevin repeated his concerns, and the friend made a complaint against him to her pastoral tutor.
When maths teacher Kevin Lister (pictured) received a message from his 17-year-old student, Lizzie, telling him she would now like to be called Liam, he was concerned
Unbeknown to Kevin, other teachers — whom he describes as ‘trans-activists’ — were made aware of this and also raised complaints about him. And on February 28 last year, he was suspended.
Kevin was accused of ‘transphobia’ for not referring to his student as a male, using their legal name in an official reference and asking during a transgender training session about the risk of a false-positive transgender diagnosis.
‘The college accused me of causing “emotional distress”, which they said was a “safeguarding violation”, but this comes nowhere near a defined safeguarding threshold,’ Kevin says.
He reported his college to Ofsted, which, in turn, reported it to the DfE whistleblowing service.
‘I was appalled to see that the DfE blindly accepted the college’s claim that they’d done a risk assessment for Lizzie, even though the principal had previously told me they did not need to do one,’ Kevin says.
‘They justified this to me by saying Lizzie was only asking for a name change. Given that I had been suspended for transphobia, this was nonsense.
‘I’ve never been transphobic, which would mean trying to harm them or deprive them of their education. Even if Lizzie had asked to change her name to another girl’s name, such as Sally or Evie, I would still have raised a safeguarding concern.’
Kevin says the DfE recommended the college do a risk assessment of its transitioning policy, which he says encourages students to transition.
‘On their diversity report, they boast of their increasing number of trans students and their gender reassignment policy is written in conjunction with trans-activists,’ Kevin says.
‘Some of it conflicts with safeguarding policy and gives no consideration for the teachers having to lie to parents. There are no warnings about the consequences of transitioning.
‘In my view, the college is totally invested in transgender philosophy and has lied throughout the process to protect their position. They have not once considered the implications of the Cass review [an independent review into gender identity and children] or any other evidence.
‘Their policy favours trans-activist teachers, and this is the consequence of no government guidance.
‘I think the college was going to fire me, irrespective of what I said. Their final justification was to say that I hadn’t followed their “gender reassignment procedure”, which wasn’t even contractual. What I had done was follow their safeguarding procedure, which was contractual.
‘No school will employ me while I have a safeguarding concern against me. I want to teach maths, but I am forced to defend myself against unfounded accusations of transphobia. My tribunal result won’t be for a year and thousands of children could be affected between now and then.
‘I don’t have any views about transgenderism in general. I simply look at the best quality evidence I can find.’
When approached by the Mail, the college said no one was available to comment.
But Kevin is not alone. Vanessa Smith’s 12-month supply teaching contract at an East Midlands primary school was brought to an abrupt halt when she expressed concerns over transitioning two boys aged only eight and five.
‘I was a Year 1 teacher on long-term supply and Thomas, a five-year-old boy in my class, had an older brother, George, eight, who was now being referred to as his sister,’ says Vanessa, who has taught for more than ten years. ‘The mother who was leading it all had learning difficulties, was barely able to read or write and was a victim of domestic violence, which the boys had both witnessed. The family were very vulnerable.
‘The actual words the head teacher used as “proof” [that George was trans] were: “Mum’s concerned about George because ‘she’ played with too many dolls in nursery.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. A child playing with different toys isn’t a sign that they’re trans.
‘The entire Senior Leadership Team (SLT) and most of the staff were congratulating themselves on being so “inclusive” [by accepting this unofficial diagnosis], so I didn’t dare say anything at that point.
‘From there, it snowballed into socially transitioning the child without any medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria.’ Vanessa says the child in question was autistic, a diagnosis that was made by a team of professionals including an educational psychologist.
(In 2020, research carried out by Cambridge University showed there may be a link between autism and gender diversity.)
‘I was deeply concerned that this child’s mental health could be harmed by calling him a girl, and I tried to swallow every concern because of the fear of reprisals,’ she says.
‘But by December, I decided that safeguarding was my priority, and if that meant taking the hit, then so be it.
‘I presented the SLT with guidance from organisations such as Transgender Trend [an organisation advocating for evidence-based care of gender dysphoric children and science-based teaching in schools], Safe Schools Alliance and the Cass Report.
‘They ignored everything and totally relied on guidance from pro-trans charity Mermaids, as well as the Local Authorities Trans Toolkit, which said that social affirmation was the right path.
‘I could only manage using they/them but never she/her. I did manage to speak to a couple of staff members who were horrified as well, but they wouldn’t speak out for fear of being disciplined or losing their jobs.’
Vanessa says that George grew his hair long and started wearing nail varnish and make-up — despite the fact these were banned for girls in school. ‘He carried on wearing trousers but started using the girls’ toilets because he was being bullied for “being a girl”,’ she says.
‘It must have been difficult for him and I had great sympathy for the family. The mother had been advised by Mermaids and she was vulnerable, too.
‘We were supposed to be the “adults in the room”, the ones who supported and helped, instead of blindly choosing to affirm the child immediately.’
The situation was to become even more troubling for Vanessa when, a few weeks later, George’s five-year-old brother in her class — who had also been referred to the autism team for probable diagnosis — came into school wearing nail varnish and eye shadow because ‘his sister does’.
Kevin says he was uncomfortable ‘socially transitioning’ (using different names and pronouns) his student until these concerns had been addressed (file image)
Vanessa says that though he didn’t believe he was a girl that’s what he was being told.
‘After I’d seen the Cass interim report [which said that socially transitioning children is “not a neutral act, and better information is needed about outcomes”], I raised concerns with the SLT and was accused of transphobia. The head rang my agency and told me not to return to the school, leaving me with no income over Christmas.
‘I’d been employed for a year but only lasted three months. I was actually relieved to be out of the situation, but concerned for the welfare of those two boys, particularly George.
‘My heart breaks for the — obviously effeminate — boy who is on a path towards medicalisation if no one steps in soon.’
Vanessa adds: ‘Thankfully, my agency has been very supportive and I’ve got a much better role now, but I can’t believe what’s going on in schools.
‘There needs to be an audit of all third-party providers of Relationships and Sex education in schools to ensure gender ideology is not taught as fact.’
The Safe Schools Alliance, a grassroots organisation which campaigns to uphold child safeguarding in schools, says teachers with similar concerns have been contacting them from throughout the UK.
‘Many teachers do understand their safeguarding responsibilities and are strongly committed to protecting the children in their care,’ says spokeswoman Tanya Carter. ‘Sadly, they are often not backed up by leadership and management at their school or trust, or even their own union.
‘The National Education Union (NEU) continues to promote politically partisan and dangerous materials, despite being repeatedly challenged on it. Many of their members are distressed by this failure to prioritise child safeguarding.
‘It is way past time for the Secretary of State for Education, Gillian Keegan, and the DfE to issue and enforce clear guidance that schools must segregate sports, changing rooms, toilets and overnight accommodation by sex, not gender, and work constructively with parents, including being transparent about materials used, and not promote partisan political views.’
The National Education Union declined to give a comment to the Mail, but on its online Trans Toolkit it says: ‘It is crucial that schools and colleges provide confidentiality in supporting trans students. In all other cases, the wishes of the pupil or student in respect of disclosure should be respected.
‘Schools and colleges should ensure they discuss with students, and with their parents or carers, when it will be necessary to disclose trans children’s legal names, for example when registering for exams and for medical record purposes.’
Many teachers who contacted me talked about a ‘culture of fear’ within schools. Liane Gallagher, 57, a teacher in a co-ed grammar school in South-West England, says she was reported to the head teacher simply for discussing women’s rights.
‘A 15-year-old boy in my class identifies as a girl, and we’re all expected to call them by their new name and she/her pronouns,’ says Liane, who has been teaching for more than 30 years.
‘One day, the whole class got on to the subject of the suffragettes. I discussed how hard women had fought for their rights, and it was quite a lively conversation.
‘I didn’t think any more of it. But later that day I discovered the boy had made a formal complaint about me because I’d been talking about women’s rights and he said he “didn’t feel safe”.
‘Some of the girls were called into the head teacher’s office and, thankfully, they said I wasn’t being “transphobic”. Had they agreed with this boy, I would have been seriously disciplined.
‘It’s frightening because these children are being radicalised by this ideology. As teachers, we are supposed to do what’s best for pupils, but now we’re all too scared to speak out if we are concerned.’
All names apart from Kevin’s have been changed.
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