Case study

Helping protect a teacher’s conscience

The average teacher cares for their pupils and wants the best for them. But dedication to their pupils doesn’t always mean teachers can do what they ask.  

Simon*, a teacher at a state high school, was told one day that a pupil in his class was transitioning genders and had a new name and new pronouns. Simon didn’t have a problem with using the new name, but the instruction to use the pupil’s preferred pronouns put him in a difficult position.  

Simon had concerns based on what he knew about the scientific evidence on gender transition, and based on his faith. For example, he was aware that the incidence of adolescents questioning their gender has increased dramatically in recent years, causing healthcare professionals to question whether this is a social phenomenon rather than a genuine medical issue, and raising concerns that transition can have significant negative consequences that children can’t anticipate.  

Putting the issue in legal language, he felt that being required to use the pupil’s preferred pronouns would conflict with his conscience for secular and religious reasons. After explaining his beliefs respectfully to the pupil, Simon was asked to attend a meeting with the principal to discuss a complaint.  

Simon called Ethos and we advised him about the best way to approach the situation. We secured the services of an expert lawyer to represent him in the meeting so that all the issues could be considered fairly and with full knowledge of the legal position.  

After a constructive and good-faith meeting, the school confirmed that Simon could act consistently with his conscience. He wouldn’t be forced to use the pupil’s preferred pronouns and would simply avoid using pronouns altogether when referring to the pupil. For his part, Simon acknowledged that sensitive conversations like these require great care and that in hindsight he would have approached his interaction with the pupil differently.  

Ethos was glad to help bring about a good result for everyone and to support Simon and his freedom of conscience. The case demonstrates that we can make room for conscience and provides an example for other schools.  

*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

Read "Students and Social Transition"
Alex Penk
January 12, 2024
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