‘Mum, there’s nowhere for me to get changed’

by | May 30, 2024 | The Education System | 0 comments

Getting changed for PE should be straightforward. It should be a safe and secure area for your child to get dressed, but what about the children who don’t fit into the gender binary?

Tom Wells (He/Him), 20, came out as male in 2018. He says that he ‘dreaded’ physical education class, with it being the one lesson where he felt most ‘out of place’. 

“The boys did not want to get changed with me because they thought I was a girl, and the girls did not want to get changed with me because they thought I was a boy. I had to get dressed for lessons in the disabled toilets and it was humiliating.

“Coming out was lonely. No one understood how I felt and all I wanted was to be included with my friends and be happy being myself.”

Over 250,000 people in England and Wales stated they did not identify with their birth sex, as per the 2023 UK Census data. 

Tom’s story is not uncommon among trans people who come out during their high school years, with poor mental health a familiar ramification for the trans community. 

He says, “My mental health was not great because I was the only openly trans person at my school and there was no one who could really relate to what I was going through.

“At school, it was hard to feel part of a group because I was so different. Everything felt wrong and it was tough to fit in with everyone when I didn’t really know who I was.”

An article published by the Guardian found that 82 per cent of government ministers agree that unisex changing and bathroom facilities should be provided within educational establishments. 

Tom is a strong advocate for unisex school facilities, believing them to be enablers for a positive and inclusive atmosphere for those who are coming out or who have already come out. 

He believes schools should protect and nurture children, by finding solutions which make students happy and putting their needs first. 

Tom maintains his stance that the education system should be doing more, with the money clearly being available to distribute. 

He says, “Finances are available to have the right things put in place, but it’s up to the people in charge to be able to do that.

“It doesn’t always feel like schools are valuing trans people. It feels like we are still a minority who are not completely accepted.”

Ex-South Yorkshire secondary school governor, Michael Swindells, believes that schools should look after their LGBTQ+ students by providing safe spaces where transgender students feel safe.

“A school will do the best they can for everyone and that’s what a school is there to do, so if it is possible then a school should provide unisex changing rooms.”

There are over 4000 secondary schools in the UK, with the government allocating over £57 Billion of funding to schools in 2023. 

Despite all this funding, Swindells goes on to say: “Every school will do things slightly differently. They are working with a broad framework, then it all comes down to infrastructure and whether they can physically create unisex changing facilities. 

“Schools will do the best they can with what they have. School is a very tricky and uncomfortable time for many students so they will want to try and keep everyone both in and out of the LGBTQ+ community happy.”

In 2023, the UK Government, under the guidance of the Education Secretary, Gillian Keegan, published the Guidance for Schools on Gender Questioning Children

The policy, published on the UK Government’s website, says: “In regard to single-sex spaces and sports, the government sets out the principle that biological sex is fundamentally important when it comes to protecting safety and ensuring fairness in competitive sports.

“Where safety is a consideration – for example in physical sport or single-sex spaces – the guidance is categoric that it must never be compromised by allowing a child of the opposite sex to participate in those activities or use those facilities. 

“Schools should also make sure competitive sport is fair, which will almost always mean separate sports for boys and girls, especially in older cohorts.”

Where gender-questioning students can get changed is an issue that can make a difficult and confusing period in someone’s life into a much bigger ordeal. However, this affair reflects wider and more concerning issues for the educational institution.

Jane Hamlin, Ambassador for the Beaumont Society, (She/Her), believes these recent government policies are ‘failing’ LGBTQ+ pupils. 

She says, “At the heart of education, lies the child, and at the heart of any educational institution should be the student. Previously, children were expected to fit into this rigid process, and I think that things have gotten a lot worse for trans people in recent years.

“People who don’t like trans people and don’t think we should exist have used the government guidelines to make life a lot worse for us.”

Jane transitioned 12 years ago and insists that there are huge issues surrounding trans supportive changing environments, but also the integration of trans students within sports lessons. 

She says, “Who do they play with? Which gendered group are they placed in? Is that fair on the students and the other children?

“These are major points that have been neglected by the governing authority and will have a negative impact on a generation of trans children if not dealt with”.

In 2021, The Guardian stated that Trans people only make up 1 percent of the population across the UK and Ireland. Whilst trans athletes are being integrated into sports, and most competitive sports do allow for trans athletes to compete, they are still massively underrepresented within the media. 

But it is not all doom and gloom. 

Whilst the issue with unisex inclusive changing rooms is still apparent, there is a lot to suggest that the future is bright. Schools and shopping centres have begun incorporating them into standard practice and LGBTQ+ representation has been increasing within the media over the last few years. 

With charities like The Beaumont Society and Mermaids, who are dedicated to campaigning for transgender inclusion and support, it is only a matter of time before the angst that trans people feel about getting changed, is a thing of the past.