Guidance Supporting Trans Kids Scrapped by EHRC After Government Interference

A guide from Britain’s equalities watchdog helping UK schools to support trans children was dropped after almost four years of delays following intervention from the government, VICE World News can reveal.
Poppy, now aged 15, was photographed for the unused guidance. Photo: Supplied / Obtained by VICE World News.

Official guidance to help UK schools support trans students was suddenly dropped by Britain’s equalities watchdog following government interference, VICE World News has learned. 

Employees said colleagues openly cried in meetings after the guidance was scrapped in 2021, and they have since labelled the move by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) “another Section 28,” referencing a historic piece of legislation which was designed to prevent the so-called promotion of homosexuality in schools. 


“I distinctly remember my colleague saying that Number 10 made line by line changes to the guidance, because they didn’t want it to be too progressive, or too supportive of trans children,” one EHRC lawyer said. 

Trans young people who were used as case studies in the 37-page document have told us how the release could have helped their teachers to prevent the transphobic bullying they faced. 

The publication created by the EHRC – which was leaked to VICE World News in full – was being made for all schools in the UK providing primary or secondary education. The leaked guidance explained how existing laws under the Equality Act protect trans pupils, and provided “good practice tips to help schools”. 

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School leaders, LGBTQ charities and families supporting trans children were all involved in working on creating the guidance between 2017 and 2021. Over the years, several versions were close to being released, before, according to internal whistleblowers, EHRC senior management and government officials – including Liz Truss, the minister for women and equalities – “totally shut it down” last year.


The disclosure comes after 20 LGBTQ organisations called on the UN to revoke the EHRC’s status as an internationally recognised human rights body for trying to remove trans people’s legal protections. That call itself came after VICE World News revealed this month that senior leaders at the EHRC had met privately with anti-trans groups, that staff were quitting the EHRC due to an “anti-LGBT” culture, and that under unpublished guidance, the EHRC wanted to restrict the lives of trans people unless they held a Gender Recognition Certificate.

Whistleblowers at the EHRC have revealed how the schools guidance was “changed line by line” by senior government officials, who told staff they were worried about it “pushing the trans agenda”. Employees said it was then “made gender critical” – through changes in language and case studies, and by removing sections – including directly by the EHRC chair Baroness Kishwer Falkner, before being dropped entirely last year. 

They added: “Government officials were bothered by the term ‘trans child’ but they couldn’t think of a better one. They changed some of the case studies and examples we wanted to use, especially around toilet use. They wanted to change the guidance for faith schools, and they wanted teachers to be able to challenge young people on their identity.” 


A current employee confirmed that “case studies, language and examples were all made less progressive.” They told VICE World News the trans school guidance had made them realise “how much the government dictates what the EHRC puts out” even though it is supposed to be independent. 

They added: “Some people were coming back from maternity-leave in shock that the guidance still hadn’t gone out. It was ready in September 2019, so that schools could immediately use it for the new term, and then it was suddenly blocked. I asked my managers why, and I was told the Cabinet Office had said no. I asked when it would be released, and I got nothing back. That was so shocking to me.”

Schools across the UK were supposed to be issued with the first official national guidelines on supporting transgender children in March 2018, after David Isaac – the EHRC chair at the time – said: “Transgender children are being failed by our schools and society, leading to an unprecedented number of self-harm and suicide attempts… The risks to transgender children are becoming so prevalent that the Commission is now starting work on new guidance for schools on how to support them.”

VICE World News has been sent several versions of the full unreleased guidance packs for England and Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. They were all produced by the EHRC and all were shelved multiple times.


The EHRC was established in 2007 by the then Labour government to monitor human rights in England, Wales and Scotland, and to enforce equality laws. Although not part of a government department, the EHRC is a public sector organisation funded by the taxpayer, with senior leaders appointed by the government.

The most recent appointments have been made by Liz Truss. In November 2020, Truss appointed Falkner as chair of the EHRC, the most important role in the organisation, taking over from Isaac. 

Current staff and ex-employees told VICE World News it was “well known” that the delays to the trans schools guidance were caused by the government “being unhappy” with a document “supporting trans children”. 

One ex-staff member said: “It was common knowledge at the Commission that Number 10 and Boris Johnson’s government were pressuring us to not publish the trans schools guidance. Everybody knew that. Everybody. It was the elephant in the room.”

Another added: “Liz Truss and people in her office were making threats about the guidance. They didn’t want us to publish it. To lots of us, it seemed like Falkner was brought in to be more gender critical, because her first act was to completely ruin the trans school guidance. It's heartbreaking.”

EHRC employees were hoping that the guidance would be released between the period of Isaac finishing as chair, and Falkner starting, but this didn’t happen. Instead, employees say it was held up again, before Falkner “personally edited” and changed the guidance.


Poppy, now 15, was photographed for the unused guidance. Photo: Supplied

One ex-staffer said: “The draft was so heavily edited by Falkner that people were speechless. She changed the case studies, the language… It was so gender critical and transphobic, there was no way it could get published.”

Another doubted whether it was actually her making the edits, adding: “I wouldn’t be surprised if it was actually edited by her gender critical contacts or gender critical lawyers that she knows, because I found her to be quite incompetent and lacking expertise in the area.”

After Falkner’s edits, employees say the guidance was binned for the final time. 

An employee who left last year said: “Within weeks of Baroness Falkner formally taking over, we were called to a meeting where the guidance was dropped. Staff were crying. It was outrageous. Schools need this guidance, because they just don't know how to deal with this really difficult issue. Like, how to deal with a trans kid when they transition at school, that's a complicated thing to do, right.”

Another ex-employee added: “It was a scary time. Falkner made a gender critical version of the guidance. The Commission [has always been] very cautious and conservative, it is not a lefty radical organisation. Falkner came in and showed a complete disregard for a huge amount of expertise in the EHRC.”


Staff told VICE World News about “a collective sense of shame” as a result of not publishing the guidance, especially because of the LGBTQ bullying that occurs in British schools. One employee said, “It’s literally Section 28 again.”

They continued: “All of the arguments being used were the same arguments as Section 28. It is so shameful that we could’ve used our power and position to provide clarity and leadership, but all we did was withdraw. Trans kids are suffering atrocious harm, being bullied like crazy, and we did nothing.”

Elizabeth Prochaska was the legal director and worked on the guidance until she left the EHRC in 2019. She said the guidance was “useful and important.” She added, “schools had been crying out for clear guidance on the law for a long time. Our team at the Commission worked really hard to produce accurate guidance, but sadly it was never published.”

We also heard from a lawyer who worked on the guidance. They were scared of speaking up due to breaking client confidentiality. They said: “The government had always been uncomfortable with the trans guidance and they made that clear to the Commission.”

“Number 10 had close editorial control. The government was heavily involved in the editing of it. They went through the guidance with my colleagues, line by line, and asked for amendments to be made.” 


“The very idea of the guidance was offensive to Number 10 because they thought there was a problem with more children than ever becoming trans. We had lots of statements in the guidance about trying to support trans children, and it was like they were worried that children would be encouraged by their teachers to ‘turn trans’. They were uncomfortable with the whole thing.”

Photo: Obtained by VICE World News

Photo: Obtained by VICE World News

The England and Wales guidance leaked to VICE World News is titled: “Trans pupils: guidance for schools in England and Wales on the Equality Act 2010 - DRAFT”.

The opening reads: “By following the good practice set out in this guidance, schools will be able to promote an inclusive environment where all pupils are respected and can thrive and learn, free from discrimination, regardless of their gender identity.” 

A section of the scrapped guidance. Photo: Obtained by VICE World News

A current staff member called early drafts of the guidance “incredible”, adding that “it explains about toilet use, bullying, school trips, sports sessions… Schools have been crying out for this guidance, and we completely let them down.” 

They added: “We kept telling LGBT charities that it’s coming out, and then it never did. In those years, how many children have grown up feeling like they didn’t belong? How many teachers have struggled trying to support trans students? The EHRC has failed so many trans children.” 


After “at least five delays” ranging from “2017” to “early 2021”, Susie Green, the CEO of Mermaids, was advised that the guidance was being cancelled. She told me her charity spent a lot of time working with the EHRC to ensure their guidance was published, but her team was “constantly disappointed as deadlines drifted and dates for publication were not met.”

She added: “Unnecessary pain and suffering for many could have been alleviated, if not avoided entirely, if the EHRC had honoured their commitment to ensure that trans students were protected.”

VICE World News has spoken to one of the trans young people photographed for the EHRC’s binned guidance. 

Poppy, who is now 15 years old, said it “annoys her” that the guidance was not released because she has been bullied at school just for being trans.

“In the past I’ve had people asking me uncomfortable questions, like what genitals I have, and about the toilets, and what my dead name is,” said Poppy, who VICE World News is only identifying by her first name. “It annoys me because the EHRC could have helped so many people who are struggling to be themselves and people could have been educated.” 

She added: “I’d like to ask Liz Truss why she did that, and whether she would release it now.”

Her mum said the guidance would have made “a massive difference”.

She added: “I think it would have made a massive difference. When Poppy went from primary school to high school, it was me who had to go and educate the teachers and tell them what to do.”

VICE World News asked the EHRC a series of questions, including whether the government had ever applied pressure to the EHRC board to change or scrap the guidance, whether “line by line changes” were made by government officials, and whether Falkner ever personally edited the trans school guidance. A spokesperson for the EHRC refused to confirm or deny any of these points, but said their “commitment to protecting the rights of trans people has not changed.”

They added: “The Commission decided after careful consideration not to progress developing this guidance as some of the issues facing schools are outside our remit. We asked the Department for Education to produce full and authoritative guidance, since they are best placed to offer schools the clarity they need.”

Nancy Kelley, CEO of Stonewall said schools and teachers have been “let down” by the EHRC's “failure to provide clear, authoritative guidance on supporting trans children and young people in school.” 

She added: “While trans children and young people are being bullied and experiencing poor mental health at school, the EHRC's leadership has been delaying, meddling with - and ultimately scrapping - guidance that could have made a huge difference to the support trans children and young people receive in school."

A spokesperson for the government’s Equality Hub said: “It is not unusual for regulators and the government to engage on relevant issues and for Government Departments to issue guidance relevant to their specific briefs.”