Kevin Lister Transgender Case: Exploring the Urgent Need For Clear Guidance on Gender-Questioning Children

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Photo Credits: Ivan Aleksic via Unsplash

In September 2021, a maths teacher at New College Swindon was sacked over transphobia allegations. Kevin Lister was accused of gross misconduct for not using a student’s preferred name and he/him pronouns during maths lessons. At this point, Mr Lister had been working at New College for around two decades.

At present, Mr Lister has taken the college to an employment tribunal for unfair dismissal and victimisation on grounds of religion or belief. A case like this only begs the question – in this ever-changing world of gender identities, do schools need better guidance for gender-questioning children?

But before we get into that, let’s take a look at what happened with Kevin Lister.

Math Teacher Kevin Lister Sacked for Not Using Preferred Pronouns

Case Background

Mr Kevin Lister had been working for New College Swindon for two decades as an A-Levels maths teacher. In 2021, he had a 17-year-old biologically female student who identified as a man with he/him pronouns. The student insisted that the teacher use the preferred name and pronouns.

READ: ICO’s Trans Guidance Under Heavy Scrutiny

However, in a letter to the Daily Mail, Mr Lister says he wasn’t sure if he and his colleagues should be going along with what the student wants without speaking to the parents. Subsequently he raised a concern with the school regarding informing the parents, but the safeguarding team did not contact them.

Deadnaming in the Classroom

The whole situation got much worse when Mr Lister deadnamed the student by writing their female name, instead of the preferred male name, on the board. This was because the student wanted to enter a math competition for girls – which led to Mr Kevin Lister writing the student’s female name. However, this was deemed transphobic as it was humiliating for the student.

Kevin Lister was sacked for gross misconduct, after an investigation of the allegations, in September 2022. According to the principal and chief executive of the college at the time, Carole Kitching, his dismissal was not because of his views but because of the way he treated the student.

Miss Kitching also told the hearing that Mr Lister’s gender-critical views are recognised and respected but harassing and humiliating a student is not an option. According to her, she doesn’t know why there was a need to write the student’s female name. She adds that if Mr Lister was not keen on using the gender pronoun, he could just use their name.

Transgender Ideology is a Cult – Kevin Lister

The hearing in Bristol had Mr Kevin Lister state that he did not use the gender pronouns because he believes transgender ideology is a cult. According to him, being LGBT+ is a safeguarding issue in itself. He further adds that raising a safeguarding issue in this case, is the same as raising one for a student who is brainwashed by ISIS ideology.

READ: How To: Support Employees in their Transition Journey

Furthermore, Mr Lister does not believe he violated the student’s dignity in any way. He adds, that the student may have felt that way, there was no evidence of it. At the hearing, he also denies holding any extreme views and says transgender ideologies should not be supported in schools.

The hearing continues and only time will tell what comes out of it.

Safeguarding The Well-Being of Gender Questioning Children with Proper Guidance

With growing requests for changing names, uniforms and facilities, there is a need now, more than ever, for guidance on social transitioning. And so, a draft guidance to support gender-questioning students was created in December 2023. This spoke about the duty schools and colleges have, to safeguard gender-questioning students.

The guidance aims at educating schools and colleges on how a student’s well-being can be supported without immediately informing the parents. However, it does not condone withholding information from the parents.

The guidance places emphasis on social transition and states that schools are not obligated to approve all requests. But, on the rare occasion that it does happen, schools should use a cautious approach and the parents should be consulted.

Mixed Feelings About the Gender Questioning Guidance: Are We Really on the Right Track?

While the guidance is in its consultation phase, it has already gotten some backlash. The Race Equality Foundation says that it has not taken input from the very people it plans on safeguarding making it “fundamentally flawed”.

However, Baroness Kishwer Falkner says the guidance is long awaited and is a step towards providing schools and colleges the advice they need. One of the key recommendations made by EHRC is that the guidance should emphasise that while children can’t legally change their sex, they do have protected characteristics.

Additionally, in terms of pronouns, the EHRC suggests that stating teachers are not compelled to use preferred pronouns overrides the child’s protected characteristics. Instead, the school should make sure there are no deliberate actions of misgendering. Schools also need to apply policies flexibly to respect the rights of all parties.

READ: What are Gender Expression Policies, and Do You Need One?

This has also been countered by human rights organisations like Sex Matters. They criticise the EHRC for placing more importance on the provisions of law, rather than the best interests of children. In their report, they stated that the EHRC has failed to emphasise protecting children from being treated differently because of such rules and guidelines.

As the Kevin Lister case goes on, one can only hope that it encourages the government to put together guidance to help gender-questioning children. And while there is a lot of debate around what the best approach forward is, protecting the children and their best interest in a balanced manner is key.

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