Headteacher faces backlash over move towards gender neutral language

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A headteacher has faced backlash after she said that she made a conscious effort to use gender-neutral language when referring to students.

Sally Anne Huang is a head teacher at James Allen’s Girls School, an esteemed private school in Dulwich, south-east London.

Over the weekend, Huang appeared on the front page of the Times in an article titled “my girls are not girls”.

The headteacher had told the paper that she as the school welcomed trans students and exploration of gender identity, she made an effort to not use the word “girls” when referring to groups of students while talking to them.

Rather, Huang opted for gender-neutral pronouns they, them and pupils or students.

Related: Uneducated doctors are ‘killing the transgender community’

“I try not to say ‘girls’, [but] when you have been teaching for 20 years it is very hard not to say ‘girls’,” she explained.

However, the article caused backlash as Piers Morgan, known for his transphobic views on gender neutrality, tweeted a picture of the article out.

Transphobes on Twitter accused the Oxford graduate of “messing with girls’ minds”.

One person wrote: “What next: renaming James Allen’s Girls’ School, as James Allen’s Pupils’ School?”

“The Head of James Allen’s “You’re not Girls” School is an idiot & anyway it’s not a “leading” school – except in the idiocy of the Head,” another said.

A third added: “How the hell did we let it get like this?”

Related: These parents won’t send their son to school because there is a trans kid in the class

Some defended the teacher, who did not completely rule out the use of the word girls, but just spoke about making an effort to acknowledge trans students.

“Don’t see the issue. She just says she is trying not to say girls so as not to offend transgender people. She hasn’t banned the word,” someone said.

Another added: “Who is offended by the word “pupil” and why?”

Huang has since criticised the article in the Times which she said was “misleading”.

She wrote: “The headline attached to my name in The Sunday Times this morning is not helpful and I never said the words attributed to me in it.

“Obviously, our pupils are girls – it’s in the name of the school! There are no plans to stop using the word. We spend huge amounts of time discussing the portrayal and experiences of young women but no one sees that as news.

“My comments about the need to be gender neutral and use terms such as ‘students’ were only applied in my interview to occasions when I knew that a transgender pupil was present and I wanted to break my every day habit in order to be sensitive to them.”

The headteacher added that she was happy to be part of the discussion on issues faced by young people, but that deflecting away from that with a misleading article was inappropriate.

“The challenge of being transgender is only one of these (challenges) – but it’s a shame for those involved that it continues to be the one that attracts and generates the sensational headlines. I will keep talking about teenagers and the issues we have to consider when entrusted with their care. And it’s still very much a girls’ school!”