Responding to coverage of our Equality and diversity policy

Julie Bentley responds to recent coverage of our policy on allowing transgender children to join our organisation

12 March 2018

From Julie Bentley, Chief Executive, Girlguiding:

"This past week Girlguiding’s policy on allowing trans children to join our organisation has once again been in the news, prompting various discussion threads on mumsnet and a whole host of other social media channels. Our approach has been called into question with criticism of our policy around inclusion.  

Girlguiding has been helping girls to take part in fun and adventure with friends for over 100 years; we change as the lives of girls change, supporting them to navigate the changing nature of society and the world around them.  

86% of girls and young women aged 11-21 have told us, through the Girls’ Attitudes Survey 2016, that people should not be discriminated against because they are transgender. I am proud to see that young people feel so strongly the need to support rather than exclude.

It’s been really disappointing to read and hear comments that suggest the inclusion of trans children and young people in Girlguiding somehow puts our other members at risk.

It is quite frankly disturbing that people assume that a trans child is a threat to others or that they would want to harm their Girlguiding friends. But we do also recognise that there are legitimate concerns and queries around the practicalities of self-identifying girls sharing sleeping and bathroom facilities, and that’s why we offer bespoke guidance for any leader who is looking to run an activity, like a camp, that’s going to involve a trans child.

We’ve been asked why we don’t simply use exemptions under the law. We continue to review our policies against emerging guidance from organisations like the Equality and Human Rights Commission and, like other organisations working with children and young people, we welcome all guidance that helps us navigate this complex area.  However, as a girl-only organisation Girlguiding does not have the right to exclude trans young people from guiding and nor would we wish to. 

The law around equal rights for trans people in the UK isn’t new, but there is still a huge amount of confusion and debate around the application of the law. It’s important that these conversations are being had to help people navigate an issue that might be new and different to them; education to help understanding is always welcome. What’s important for us as an organisation though is the reality on the ground for our girls and young women.

The Gender Identity Research & Education Society (GIRES) estimates that about 1% of the British population are gender non-conforming to some degree, and the numbers of trans boys and trans girls are about equal. Experts, including young trans people themselves, and their parents, tell us that being a trans child is often hugely traumatic and they can suffer feelings of shame; lacking confidence and wanting to hide away their bodies.

With that in mind, and the fact that we must comply with the law (which is why we have specific guidance around all the protected characteristics defined in the Equality Act 2010), in the very small number of instances we’ve so far experienced, we’ve worked with the trans child, their parent, guiding volunteers and the other girls, to provide an environment and facilities where everyone feels comfortable. In some instances this has included the use of separate facilities.

A Girlguiding volunteer leader shared their thoughts with us this week;

All they want to do is 'be'. They aren't sexual predators or con artists; they are simply children.

I think it quite neatly sums up what is most important to keep in mind when discussing this complex issue. Girlguiding has been supporting girls and young women to have fun, develop their aspirations, confidence and self-esteem for over a century. We will continue to proudly do just that."