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What’s going on with the Girl Guides and trans kids? Myth vs fact

Ella Braidwood September 26, 2018

On Tuesday (September 25), Girlguiding, better known as the Girl Guides, released a statement condemning criticism of its Equality and Diversity policy, which includes transgender women and girls.

It came after The Sunday Times revealed that two Girl Guides leaders have been expelled from the organisation for refusing to follow the policy on trans inclusion.

The policy has been opposed by some Guide leaders, who argue that admitting trans women and girls to the organisation could make Girlguiding spaces and events less safe.

In the joint statement, chief guide Amanda Medler and chief executive Ruth Marvel hit-out at the criticism of its trans inclusion, both in the press and on social media, saying “much of it is inaccurate, aggressive and counter to the values we hold dear.”

So, what happened? Here’s all you need to know.

Girl Guides welcomes trans women and girls

In January 2017, Girlguiding introduced its Equality and Diversity policy. The new policy, which it said must be adhered to by all members and volunteers, aimed to assert Girlguiding’s position as a “global youth movement that celebrates diversity, and is committed to equality and respect.”

The policy covers a number of areas, including sexual orientation, ethnicity, socio-economic status, political beliefs, and disability. One of its sections focuses on the inclusion of self-identified transgender women and girls.

“If a child or young person self-identifies as a girl or young woman then they are able to join any of our youth sections appropriate to their age,” the Girlguiding policy reads.

Elsewhere on the Girlguiding website, it states that the organisation would not inform parents if a trans person was at one of its events. “It is not a requirement – or best practice – to tell parents that a trans person will be attending a residential event,” the page reads.

Why has the policy come under fire?

Helen Watts, one of the expelled Guide leaders told The Sunday Times that the Girlguiding policy “ignored basic safeguarding principles.” She added: “The policy puts all leaders in a really difficult position. It contradicts other inclusion policies — for certain faith communities for instance — and it completely contradicts existing policies around informed parental consent.”

The furore around Girlguiding’s trans-inclusive policy comes after it has already been in place for nearly two years.

One possible reason the issue is being raised again is the growing debate about the government’s proposed reform of the Gender Recognition Act 2004, which is currently out for consultation.

Helen Watts was expelled from Girlguiding for opposing its inclusion of trans women and girls. (Helen Watts/Facebook)

Gender Recognition Act reform

The government has said it wants to de-medicalise the process to legally change genders, moving towards self-identification, which is used in other countries like the Republic of Ireland.

This move towards self-identification is opposed by trans-exclusionary radical feminists, or TERFs as they have become widely known, who argue that this could make women-only spaces—such as public bathrooms and changing rooms—less safe. You can read PinkNews’ explainer on TERFs here.

Trans people in the UK have been using bathrooms and changing rooms of their choice for years—and this is not affected by changes to the Gender Recognition Act. This is because, under the Equality Act 2010, transgender people are allowed to use public toilets in accordance with their gender identity.

And a recent US survey showed there is no empirical evidence to the claim that allowing transgender people to use the public facility of their choice would increase violations of privacy and crime.

In recent months, a number of trans-exclusionary feminist groups across the UK have organised various high-profile stunts against the review of the Gender Recognition Act. These include a group of lesbian TERFs hijacking the front of Pride in London’s parade, a number of phallus-shaped “women don’t have penises” stickers appearing in cities across the UK and the installation of a anti-trans billboard in Liverpool.

Anti-trans press coverage stoking the flames of fear

The expulsion of the two Guide leaders has been picked up by the national newspapers.”Girl Guide leaders booted out and groups closed down after transgender toilet row,” a headline in the The Sun reads; another, in the Mail Online, states: “Guide leaders who opposed group’s new transgender policy are expelled and have their units closed down.” The incident was also discussed on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, where trans campaigner Susie Green, CEO of Mermaids, clashed with host Piers Morgan over his views.

But much of this coverage has offended those in the trans community. Many trans campaigners say that the anti-trans rhetoric spread by the mainstream media only contributes to scaremongering the general public about trans issues.

In a public Facebook post responding to the Girlguiding backlash, Owl, a non-binary trans campaigner and filmmaker, wrote on Monday (September 24): “To think that 12 year old trans girls are potential abusers is simply wild. It is actually incredible that trans people actually have to argue why 12 year old trans girls aren’t a threat to other girls. What’s even more incredible is the media giving this absolutely ridiculous discussion any credibility, as it is little but bigoted fear mongering.”

Girlguiding released a statement standing with its trans members and volunteers. (Girlguiding/Facebook)

They added that opponents of the Girlguiding policy refuse to “acknowledge that trans girls are girls and those that have been fortunate enough to come out at this early age have most of the time been living as their true selves for the majority of their childhood.”

Owl continued: “Many trans girls and trans people in general feel shame about their bodies, and the idea of being naked in front of other people is a complete nightmare to many. Let alone when you are a young girl and your body is forming in different ways, especially if that is ways that cause you deep felt distress and agony..the intentions of those that advocate against them are cruel, inhumane and actively fighting against the well-being of a group of young girls due to their own deplorable bigotry.”

Girlguiding’s response

Girlguiding had remained quiet after The Sunday Times revealed that the two leaders had been expelled. But, on Tuesday, the organisation broke its silence, standing with its trans members and volunteers.

“In the last few days you may have seen that Girlguiding’s Equality and Diversity policy has been criticised in the media, with accusations that our inclusion of trans members puts girls at risk. It does not,” wrote chief guide Amanda Medler and chief executive Ruth Marvel, who said they were writing to “set the record straight.”

They added: “As an organisation we pride ourselves on caring for every individual. Simply being transgender does not make someone more of a safeguarding risk than any other person.”

Medler and Marvel went on to explain that the group’s trans inclusion policy was developed after the results of the Girls’ Attitudes Survey, in which 86 percent of people said trans people shouldn’t be discriminated against, and following legal advice.

“It hasn’t been easy to hear criticism of our organisation and of the wider Girlguiding family especially when much of it is inaccurate, aggressive and counter to the values we hold dear,” said Medler and Marvel.

“We are incredibly proud of our volunteers and the young people in our movement who sensitively and positively support diversity of all kinds, including our transgender members, as part of their groups.”

More: girlguiding, TERFs, Trans

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