Teacher suspended after accidentally misgendering trans pupil

Teacher suspended after accidentally misgendering trans pupil

Gender is a contentious issue in modern society - and that's putting it mildly. Now that the LGBTQ+ community has taken huge strides in achieving equality in areas such as marriage, attention has turned to improving the lives of those who do not identify with the gender binary. Facebook, for example, now offers users 71 gender options in a bid to be wholly inclusive.

Why? I hear you ask. Well, because many people believe that gender, just like sexuality, exists on a spectrum. And given that members of the transgender community are some of the most discriminated people in society, we have a duty to create a world where everyone is free to live life as their authentic selves, which is why cisgender people (those who identify with the sex they were assigned at birth) are encouraged to put their preferred pronouns on social media to normalize trans experiences.

Simply put, a person's biological sex and their gender are not the same thing.

But one teacher found himself unemployed after accidentally misgendering a pupil in his class: 

However, we are still a very long way off achieving equality in this area. Read almost any article about trans or nonbinary people on Facebook, and the comments section is likely to be filled with a hateful slew of comments, the majority of which will be insisting that there are only two genders - a view unsurprisingly shared by the Trump administration.

Credit: The Times

That being said, there are many well-intentioned people like myself who have unknowingly called a person by the wrong pronouns. Although I've had transgender friends since I was in my teens, it wasn't until I was in my mid-twenties that I got to know non-binary people, and using they/them pronouns proved to be a challenge at first.

This is why one teacher's suspension for calling a child by the wrong pronouns has caused such a storm. Obviously, educators have a duty to call the children in their care by the right terminology, but when maths teacher Joshua Sutcliffe, pictured above, wasn't sure what pronouns a child in his class preferred, he decided to refer to them with the gender-neutral they/them instead.

Credit: Google

But when he addressed the class collectively, the reportedly upset the transgender pupil by saying, "Well done girls."

The 28-year-old, who is also a Christian pastor at the Christ Revelation church in Oxford, subsequently faced disciplinary action for this misgendering, causing him to sue his school for unfair dismissal and discrimination, the BBC reported.

After realizing that he had made a mistake, Sutcliffe apologized to the pupil in question for any upset caused.

Credit: This Morning

And while, until this point, his actions might seem perfectly inclusive and that this misgendering was nothing more than a simple mistake, when the 28-year-old appeared on British talk show This Morning, he struggled to overturn his alleged transphobic views.

"Being intuitive, I thought, y'know, this particular student wanted to be called a boy," Sutcliffe said. "But there was no professional dialogue. Obviously, I wanted to incorporate this student into the class, welcome her into the class..."

Credit: This Morning

And it's at this point, ladies, gentlemen and others, that it's clear that Sutcliffe clearly did not respect this child's preferred pronouns by misgendering him on national television.

Indeed, the show's host, Phillip Schofield, corrected the maths teacher, and he argued he'd done nothing wrong by insisting that he'd referred to the child by their first name and gender-neutral pronouns.

Credit: Darren Jack

"I'm speaking from a place of personal conviction saying here," the 28-year-old said.

"Do you find it difficult to say him?" Schofield asked.

"It's not that it's a difficult thing for me," Sutcliffe said. "I think that as adults it's something we can talk about."

Credit: Joshua Sutcliffe

The maths teacher explained that he'd helped the child go from achieving the lowest scores in the class to the highest. He said that although the school was mixed, because he was teaching a small working group, he referred to them all as girls - a comment he described as a "slip of the tongue". Sutcliffe then said that as soon as he realized how upset the pupil was, he apologized.

While Sutcliffe's personal views towards the transgender community are questionable, it's clear that he never intentionally misgendered the child in his class, unlike another British teacher who hit the headlines, having repeatedly misgendered a transgender pupil in her class to the point where a charity reporter her to the police.

In the United Kingdom, under the Equality Act, it is an offense for a school not to accommodate transgender pupils and cause any issues which could result in them being subject to ridicule or bullying.

Credit: Lucy Nicholson

According to Mermaids, a charity which supports transgender children, the offending teacher said to the transgender pupil, "If you don't want to be called a girl then don't look like one" - a statement which would could have worsened their gender dysphoria; a condition experienced by many transgender people because of the misalignment of their physical sex and gender.

"The parents and the young person communicated to the teacher directly that they were misgendering, that this was not appropriate and that they needed to change the way they were addressing the child," Susie Green, CEO of Mermaids, said.

"If someone makes a mistake, that's fine. But this was not a mistake. It was deliberate and consistent. The actual comment from the teacher was that they are a 'grammatical purist'."

But it's not just schools that are discriminating against transgender people, churches are doing it too: 

One thing's for sure, if there's anything to be learned from these stories, it's this: we need to talk about issues surrounding gender more, as it's only with increased knowledge that we can avoid accidentally upsetting people who identify outside the binary, and stop situations like this from occurring in the future.

It's also clear that teachers like Sutcliffe need more training in order to make their classrooms a safe and inclusive learning environment for all children.