Liz Truss and No 10 accused of pressuring UK equality watchdog to scrap trans schools guidance

Liz Truss removing her face mask

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) allegedly scrapped guidance for schools on how to support trans students after government interference, according to a report from Vice World News. 

The guidance was supposed to be released in 2018, Vice reported, and was in development over four years – from 2017 to 2021 – with input from schools, charities and the families of trans kids.

It would have provided advice to schools on supporting trans children, for example on use of toilets, school trips, sports, and preventing bullying.

Former EHRC legal director Elizabeth Prochaska, who left the equalities watchdog in 2019, told Vice World News that “schools had been crying out for clear guidance on the law for a long time”.

Current and former EHRC staff members told the publication that the government objected to the guidance, and that it was heavily edited to make it more “gender critical” before eventually being scrapped.

A lawyer who worked with the EHRC said: “The government had always been uncomfortable with the trans guidance and they made that clear to the commission.

“Number 10 had close editorial control. The government was heavily involved in the editing of it. They went through the guidance with my colleagues, line by line, and asked for amendments to be made.

“The very idea of the guidance was offensive to Number 10 because they thought there was a problem with more children than ever becoming trans. We had lots of statements in the guidance about trying to support trans children, and it was like they were worried that children would be encouraged by their teachers to ‘turn trans’.”

A former EHRC staff member told Vice that it was “common knowledge… that Number 10 and Boris Johnson’s government were pressuring us to not publish the trans schools guidance”, and that “Liz Truss and people in her office were making threats about the guidance.”

Another said that by the time EHRC chief Kishwer Falkner was finished with her edits to the schools guidance, it “was so gender critical and transphobic, there was no way it could get published”.

Eventually, last year, it was announced to EHRC staff that the guidance was being scrapped altogether, leaving staff with “a collective sense of shame”.

The EHRC is supposed to be an independent equalities watchdog, but recent leaks have suggested it is anything but.

Equalities minister Liz Truss is responsible for appointment members and placed the body’s current chair, Baroness Kishwer Falkner, in her role.

Since Falkner’s appointment in 2020, there have been fears about the EHRC’s stance on trans rights. In her first interview in the role, Falkner defended the right to hold “gender critical” views.

Under her leadership, the EHRC intervened in an appeal to support Maya Forstater, who argued that her “gender critical” beliefs should be protected by UK equalities law. Forstater ultimately won her case.

Earlier this year it recommended halting gender recognition reform in Scotland, and advised that a ban on trans conversion therapy be delayed.

A series of leaks have also shown that the equalities watchdog met with anti-trans lobby groups, and worked on draft guidance advising organisations to deny trans folk without a GRC from single-sex spaces. There has been an exodus of staff over its alleged descent into “transphobia”.

Citing growing evidence of anti-trans sentiment, rights groups have said it the EHRC is no longer “credible” or “fit for purpose”.

Stonewall CEO Nancy Kelley said in a statement: “While trans children and young people are being bullied and experiencing poor mental health at school, the EHRC’s leadership has been delaying, meddling with – and ultimately scrapping – guidance that could have made a huge difference to the support trans children and young people receive in school.”

Responding to the latest scandal, the EHRC told PinkNews that the guidance for supporting trans pupils was never published because “it touched on a range of issues facing schools that were beyond our equality law remit”.

It continued: “We wrote to the Department for Education in January 2021 to recommend that they produce full and authoritative guidance to schools to support trans children in their care.

“We firmly believe this is in the best interests of young people, including trans pupils.

“We will continue to work on these issues to clarify the law and will contribute our advice and voice to the wider debate on the balance of rights. Our deep commitment to protecting the rights of trans people is unchanged.”

The Government Equalities Office (GEO) said: “It is not unusual for regulators and the government to engage on relevant issues and for government departments to issue guidance relevant to their specific briefs.”