It's safe to assume most children don't spend much time thinking too deeply about their classmates' gender identities, but the same can't be said of their parents. In an island off the coast of England, two parents have withdrawn their child from school over a transgender classmate who chooses to dress as both a boy and a girl. Since then, Nigel and Sally Rowe have publicly stated that they plan on homeschooling their six-year-old child along with his eight-year-old older brother, whom they previously removed from the same school over a different gender-nonconforming child. They may even sue. Say it with me: Oy vey.
According to the Independent, the couple claims that their son returned from school one day confused, asking why one of his peers sometimes wore dresses to class. Concerned about a young child's "mental capacity to work out those kind of things," they eventually decided to educate him at home instead.
The school in question is part of the Church of England, falling under the control of the Diocese of Portsmouth. According to Isle of Wight Radio, the organization has stood by its decision to allow the child to express their gender identity. In a statement provided to the station, its director of education cited the Equalities Act 2010, explaining that "among other things, this requires schools to accept the wishes of children and their families with regard to gender identity." He added that anything else would be "unlawful."
In an interview with BBC Radio 4, Nigel Rowe explained that the couple feels the school's decision may be influenced by politics. "We have a social understanding that we have boys and we have girls. ... We feel that there’s a political agenda that’s driving and pushing this," he said.
He also questioned the concept of gender fluidity, stating that there is a "distinct difference between male and female, not just in what you wear, but also in our DNA." In a different interview with Victoria Derbyshire, he said they couple worried about the possible psychological effects on children of seeing gender as flexible rather than a rigid construct. "It's very confusing," he said. "How do children deal with that?"
According to the BBC, the couple has plans to take legal action against the school.
As word of their decision spread online, reactions were mixed. Some people agreed that gender is a complicated subject for parents, and young children may be confused by a transgender classmate's appearance.
Others pointed out that this is the perfect opportunity to teach acceptance — and that instead, the Rowes have handed down intolerance.
A few users were simply over it.
In the UK, like in the United States, LGBT students face harassment and bullying from a young age. According to a study released in July, nearly 64 percent of transgender students said they had been bullied before, and schools are even less likely to flag transphobia among students than homophobia. This environment can have serious mental health consequences; in 2014, a survey found that nearly 59 percent of transgender young adults had considered committing suicide in the past year. Even as LGBT rights advance in some areas of the world, attitudes toward transgender people seem to lag behind. (See also: Every decision the Trump administration has made regarding transgender rights.)
The good news is that sometimes, schools stand behind their trans pupils. On Sep. 5, the all-female Wellesley College welcomed its first transgender student, Ninotska Love. Although the Rowes removed their children from its programs, the unnamed Church of England school continues to support students' rights to express their gender identity. Things aren't perfect, but it's a start.