TENI statement on gender diversity education in primary schools

TENI statement on gender diversity education in primary schools

TENI has been made aware this week of a letter sent by the Catholic Primary Schools Management Association (CPSMA) to Government Ministers about teaching gender diversity to primary school children.

Since then the President, the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste raised their voices in support of information disseminated in education. President Michael D Higgins said: “The requirement for respect to be shown, and the right for it to be experienced, should be available to all. It is necessary that it be taught, encouraged, and its absence sanctioned.”

Trans people exist and trans children exist. There are trans children in Irish primary schools who want to feel as included as every other child, want their lived experiences to be shared with their peers, and want to see themselves reflected in the curriculum just like other children do. Silencing and obscuring the experiences of trans children does not make those children disappear, it only brings a sense of shame and stigma to children already facing high levels of bullying and social isolation (as shown in the 2022 School Climate Survey which highlighted the high rates of bullying experienced by transgender children in Irish schools). We cannot on the one hand tell children that it’s ok to be who you are, and on the other hand, tell them we can’t teach others about who you are. This brings a sense of shame to trans children who just want to be themselves. Children naturally want to learn and understand about all areas of life so why wouldn’t we give them the opportunity to learn about diversity in all its forms?

“TENI regularly gets calls from Principals and teachers in schools of every denomination and every part of Ireland. I myself attended Catholic schools, as did most of the country; the schools I attended put social justice and inclusion at the heart of everything they do. Trans people in Ireland must be part of that open and welcoming society we all wish to create. They are teachers, children, parents and part of our school communities. I know that the views of the CPSMA are not shared by many teachers and principals of schools across the country who I know embrace the trans people in their lives.” Sam Blanckensee (they/he) Chair of the Board of Directors, Transgender Equality Network Ireland. 

TENI is disappointed by the views of the Catholic Primary Schools Management Association (CPSMA) suggesting that teaching about gender diversity would add to psychological contagion amongst children. Education does not encourage children to change their gender. Quite the opposite, if a person’s identity could be externally influenced, trans people would not exist. Traditional binary ideas of sex and gender are still the norm in our societies and violence is directed towards those who fall outside of those. The damaging effects of this type of misinformation in further stigmatising and silencing trans youth cannot be overstated.

TENI believes that teaching about gender diversity in primary schools can be done sensitively and in an age appropriate manner for any age group. Education allows children to recognise, accept and value their identity or respect others who do not conform with societal expectations of gender.  We support the Department of Education requirement for schools to take a whole-school inclusive approach to prevent identity-based bullying, including inclusive curricula. These approaches are evidence-based and proven to be effective. 

TENI will continue providing support to schools reaching out to us and will continue to engage with the CPSMA with the aim of ensuring trans children are treated with respect, consideration and support in primary schools across Ireland. We thank the President, the Taoiseach, the  Tánaiste and the Minister for Children for their support on this issue, and we urge the CPSMA to reconsider their statements.