Labour avoids committing to draft schools gender guidance

Labour's education spokesperson Bridget Phillipson has avoided saying whether the party would scrap a proposed ban on schools in England teaching pupils about gender identity.

Earlier this year, the Conservative government published draft guidance which says the concept should not be taught.

Setting out the guidance in May, Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said it would provide teachers with "more clarity".

Speaking on BBC One's Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg, Ms Phillipson said there were "good" principles in the guidance but that "other elements" had "drifted far too much into partisan and unnecessary language".

She also said she was "genuinely sorry to hear" of JK Rowling's doubts about voting Labour.

Writing in the Times, the Harry Potter author and former party donor criticised Keir Starmer's stance on women's and trans rights and accused the party of "abandoning women".

Responding to the comments, Ms Phillipson said she had "a real degree of respect" for the writer but argued that her party had a strong record on women's rights.

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During her interview, Ms Phillipson was repeatedly asked if a future Labour government would implement draft guidance prohibiting schools from teaching the concept of gender identity.

She said "we absolutely do need to see guidance" adding that it was important to provide "clarity" for teachers on "how to manage what is a sensitive and difficult area for them".

"But let’s make sure that children’s wellbeing is at the heart of this. Let’s stop this being a political football."

She said the government's draft guidance included "unnecessary language that I think makes it harder for schools to navigate this".

"There are trans people; they have a right for their existence to be recognised. Many trans people are vulnerable and are deserving of support."

Ms Keegan has said schools should "not be providing classroom materials that, for example, include the view that gender is a spectrum".

"While protected characteristics such as gender reassignment should be taught about, that must be done on a factual basis at an appropriate age and must not be based on contested ideology."

JK Rowling

Labour has faced criticism from some of its own MPs and supporters over its position on transgender rights.

Ms Rowling, who donated £1m to Labour in 2008, wrote in The Times: "As long as Labour remains dismissive and often offensive towards women fighting to retain the rights their foremothers thought were won for all time, I'll struggle to support them.

"For left-leaning women like us this isn't, and never has been, about trans people enjoying the rights of every other citizen and being free to present and identify however they wish.

"This is about the right of women and girls to assert their boundaries."

Under the Equality Act 2010, it is illegal to discriminate against anyone because of "protected characteristics" - a set of identifying traits that are protected by law and include age, disability, religion, race, sex and sexual orientation among others.

Some interpret sex in this context as referring strictly to biological sex, while others believe it also applies to people with a gender recognition certificate; a legal document that allows someone to change the legal sex on their birth certificate.

Earlier this year, the Conservatives pledged to rewrite the Equality Act to apply to biological sex, making it simpler for services such as rape crisis centres to stop biological males from taking part.

Responding to Ms Rowling's comments, Ms Phillipson said: "I want to make sure that women get the support and the justice that they deserve and that we do make sure that we’ve got services that are available for women, around rape and sexual violence.

"There are important provisions already there within the Equality Act that allow for single sex provision and it’s important those are maintained.

"But let’s, alongside that, make sure that trans people too get the support that they need. I don’t believe it’s an either/or but I would say really, do judge us on what we’ve done in the past to support women."