School Governance and Gender Fludity

Page topper image panel 2016 Governors Symposium

Some high profile transgender cases in the USA and in Britain have brought ‘trans’ issues to public attention. Unfortunately we have not yet articulated an overarching framework within which to think about gender fluidity, and that’s as true for society at large as it is for Christians.
As leaders and governors of Anglican schools, it is important that we engage with the issues in a mature and informed manner with a view to sharing God’s love with all concerned and framing appropriate policies and procedures for our respective schools. This is what we hope to achieve at this special evening.

Unfortunately we were unable to record this event. However a report of the evening has been reproduced below.

Speaker: David Ford

Emil Ford Lawyers - Partner

David heads the Business Law team at Emil Ford and practises extensively for organisations in the not-for-profit sector. He is known for his expertise in education law. He acts for many independent schools and other educational institutions. He consults to the boards of schools and charities on governance issues and regularly presents seminars to school teachers and administrators on education law issues. David has presented at conferences in the United Kingdom, South Africa, Belgium, the Czech Republic, New Zealand and throughout Australia, and published numerous papers on topics as varied as student rights, teachers' liability, teachers/counsellors and confidentiality, bullying, outdoor education, discrimination, LGBTI students, child protection and investigations.

Speaker: Very Rev Kanishka Raffel

Anglican Dean of Sydney and Chairman of St. Andrew's Cathedral School

Kanishka was born in London to Sri Lankan parents and was raised as a Buddhist. While studying law at Sydney University a friend gave him a copy of The Gospel according to John and he subsequently became a Christian. Prior to becoming Dean in 2016, Kanishka served as Rector of St Matthew’s in Perth. He is married to Cailey and they have two daughters. He loves curry, cricket and having gelato at the beach with his family but knows no pleasure so great as sharing the news about Jesus with people who have no idea who Jesus is or how much he loves them.

Speaker: Maryanne Davis

Danebank School - Principal

Maryanne leads the staff, students and school community at Danebank, an Anglican girl's school, that was founded in 1933. Danebank has a current enrolment of about 950 students. Under Maryanne’s leadership, Danebank continues to provided the very best of traditional and innovative teaching and learning.

School Governance and Gender Fluidity - Event Report

What is gender fluidity, and how do schools and their leaders support and care for students who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex (LGBTI) in a Godly and loving way, while fulfilling legal obligations and maintaining the integrity of Anglican schools? This was the purpose behind Anglican EdComm’s Governors’ Evening held in November last year, where the leaders and governors of our Anglican schools came together to discuss issues critical to Anglican education and to collaborate in an ongoing sense.

The evening was served admirably by Mr David Ford (Partner, Emil Ford Lawyers), the Very Rev. Kanishka Raffel (Anglican Dean of Sydney and Chair, St Andrew’s Cathedral School) and Mrs Maryanne Davis (Principal, Danebank School) who helpfully discussed the complex issue of gender fluidity and its implications for schools’ governance and Christian education in Anglican Schools. Dean Raffel began the evening with a reflection from the scriptures, Mr Ford outlined legal issues for school governance, while Mrs Davis spoke from the perspective of school management and pastoral care of students.

Unfortunately, we have not yet articulated an informed and coherent framework within which to think about and address gender fluidity, both within secular society and Christian contexts, however, there are many schools of thought, discussions and forums from which we can draw some insightful conclusions. The evening provided a helpful place to begin these discussions and consider implications for the governance of our schools.

Firstly, what is gender fluidity and its associated definitions? Gender is the condition of being either male or female, as influenced by social and cultural differences rather than biological ones (sex). Gender fluidity, is the sense that gender identity is not fixed, but can move along a spectrum of masculine-feminine, and may vary at random, or in response to different circumstances.

Transgender works alongside these terms.  Transgender refers to the disparity between an individual’s biological sex and their emotional or psychological sense of gender identity. It’s essentially a mismatch between a person’s body and their own perception of who they are.

Gender dysphoria can result. Gender dysphoria is the distress caused by the discrepancy between an individual’s gender identity and their biological sex.

As you can well imagine the issues surrounding gender fluidity are extremely complex, delicate and sensitive. Teenage identity is already complex and the addition of LBGTI issues makes it even more so. Children, teenagers and families experiencing issues surrounding their gender identity are in a state of deep stress and turmoil and need to be treated with care and compassion.

All schools, Anglican or otherwise, are a setting in which many transgender people will come to realise that they are, or feel they are, different from the mainstream conventional norms. The response that they receive from others within this setting, especially principals, teachers and other staff members, is critical to their development as young, impressionable human beings and their overall well-being.

The cultural context in which we currently live, however,  has created global tensions both within and outside the context of Christianity, and has become a vehicle for radicalism, prejudice, bias and discrimination; a platform for fear and judgement to reign.

Subsequently, people’s own self-determination has become more important than faith itself, and the notion of supporting religion, and by extension, religious education, is often regarded with indifference and hostility.

Social dogma therefore dictates that all schools, including Anglican schools, are to be open, flexible and accommodating towards LGBTI students or else be viewed as prejudiced, discriminatory and fundamental in their thinking.

How then, do schools address these issues while fulfilling legal obligations and upholding the Christian faith? As impossible as this may seem, this sense of openness and flexibility can be achieved while remaining grounded in the truths of the Bible.

Firstly, it is imperative that we value our students as much as God values us. As leaders and educators, we must remember that we are dealing with people whom God has created. We are all created in God’s image, but with the Fall came disharmony and sin. All of creation, including our bodies, became prone to failure and death, not only physically, but spiritually. We therefore must remain mindful of LGBTI and all students’ own self-worth and their growing sense of identity and treat them with love and compassion as God shown us.

Secondly, schools need to establish their position in a loving and gracious way. Throughout the evening, we were encouraged to focus on what we stand for rather than what we are against; to focus on the distinctive nature of Anglican schooling.

Thirdly, it is a worthwhile endeavour to review, strengthen and possibly amend our schools’ policies on privacy, anti-bullying and pastoral care. As an extension of this, schools need to strive towards creating a safe and secure environment for those students and families experiencing gender fluidity and dysphoria. It is pivotal for the well-being of these students and the broader community, that a rich, relational and hospitable environment be created.

It is also essential to remain abreast of current research and continually collaborate with legal and medical practitioners, alongside staff and parents of LGBTI students with regard to a child’s needs and wellbeing. There is no well-grounded consensus on the best medical practices to address gender fluidity and its associated issues, however, the only way to move forward and maintain duty of care, is to continually collaborate with all involved. 

There is a plethora of practical advice that can be further explored and considered here, however, the fundamental principal for our Anglican schools and their leaders to concede, is that they have a duty of care to all students despite their sexual orientation, and their role is to care for and support students in a way that honours Christ.

In conclusion, the subject of gender fluidity is a complex matter that requires deep thought and consideration, and most certainly is not an issue to be taken lightly or disregarded due to its convoluted and polarising nature. As leaders and governors of Anglican schools, it is important that we engage with the issues in a mature and informed manner with a view to sharing God’s love with all concerned, and framing appropriate policies and procedures for our respective schools.


Recommended Books for Further Reading

Butterfield, R. (2015). Openness Unhindered: Further Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert on Sexual identity and Union with Christ. Pittsburgh, PA: Crown & Covenant.

DeYoung, K. (2015). What does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality? Wheaton, IL: Crossway.

Roberts, V. (2016). Talking Points: Transgender. Epsom, UK: The Good Book Company.

Yarhouse, M.A. (2010). Homosexuality and the Christian: A Guide for Parents, Pastors and Friends.Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers.

Yarhouse, M.A. (2013). Understanding Sexual Identity: A Guide for Youth Ministry. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

 Yarhouse, M.A. (2015). Understanding Gender Dysphoria: Navigating Transgender Issues in a Changing Culture. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic.