In August this year, Suella Braverman (then attorney general, now Home Secretary) said it was “lawful” for schools to deadname trans kids in education.
In July, Nadim Zahawi (chairman of the Conservative party) sparked fear of a new Section 28 for trans people when he said he wanted to protect young people from “damaging and inappropriate nonsense being forced on them by radical activists.”
That’s why people like 29-year-old George White are so important in UK schools.
George is trans, and he teaches religion education at St Paul’s Catholic School in Evington, Leicestershire – where he went to school when he was a teen.
He says it’s “really important” that kids hear about LGBTQ+ issues from a young age and hopes his journey and openness about being trans will help others struggling with their gender identity.
“Regardless of what the child or the family’s beliefs are, at some point in life, they’re going to encounter someone who is different,” he tells PinkNews.
“I think it’s pretty much impossible to follow the Christian call to love your neighbour if you don’t know what your neighbour might be going through.”
He acknowledges that not everyone has to understand each other entirely, but he says it’s important to be “compassionate” and “recognise you’re speaking to another human and not to a statistic or something you’ve read about in a book”.
“When I tell my story, I’ve noticed a real shift in attitudes from kids that you wouldn’t necessary expect it from.
“That story aspect gives us a level of humanity that makes compassion easier.”
‘It doesn’t make you less of a Christian because you reach out and include LGBTQ+ people’
George believes there is a “misunderstanding of what faith is asking us to do”, when it is used in anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric, and says he finds the negativity around faith and the catholic religion “particularly disappointing”.
“I think there’s a view that you can get these things [being part of the LGBTQ+ community] away from people,” he says.
“Look at conversion therapy which believes you can remove these things from people.
“It’s an unhealthy way of looking at it, it’s not recognising the vast diversity that God can create people in, and it’s not recognising the call to love one another.”
The 29-year-old says he’s involved in “liberal Catholic circles” which “pay attention to stuff that’s coming through in society”.
George refers to Pope Francis, who is the head of the Catholic Church, as an example of how religion can adapt to become more accepting.
He mentions some of the Pope’s kind acts gleefully, which he says include “gifting funds to trans people who are struggling and telling a gay person God has made them like that and doesn’t have a problem with it”.
“It doesn’t make you any less of a Christian because you reach out and include LGBTQ+ people.
“You’ve got to separate what the rules are from the human experience of what people are living.”
‘Include’ don’t just ‘tolerate’
George explains that Catholic Church teaching says: “LGBT people should be accepted with sensitivity, compassion, and respect, and any sign of unjust discrimination in that regard should be stopped”.
He says all religions should do their best to “include” rather than “just tolerating” those who are are from the LGBTQ+ community.
In order to move forward he believes it’s important for churches to open up to LGBTQ+ inclusion which includes recognising people’s pronouns, celebrating the community through inclusive prayers, and offering leadership roles for women.
Offering advice to young queer people who are discovering themselves, George said it’s important to “take your time and figure out what’s important to you”.
“I went through a phase of thinking I have to be one or the other,” George shares, while referencing the decision he felt he needed to make between his religion and gender identity.
“It sounds cliche but everything is going to be OK. There are far more accepting spaces than you realise, there’s places online, in-person, but take your time to figure out what’s important to you.”
He also shares a great tip for those who aren’t supported by those around them: “If you’re somewhere where people don’t respect your identity and your journey, go somewhere else.
“Do not stay anywhere you aren’t wanted, because there are plenty of spaces where you will be recognised as having full human dignity and being a special creation.”