Belfast Newsletter
Lent is time to reflect on the compassion and courage of Jesus, which perhaps can help us address ‘concerns’ around transgender identity

Rev L M Ballard BA, BPhil, MTh, MPhil, PhD, a Non Subscribing Presbyterian minister, who is currently chief executive, Focus: the Identity Trust

(The article, which was published on February 18th, can be viewed by clicking here).

I read with great interest Adam Kula’s piece entitled ‘Lawyer’s ‘serious human rights concerns’ over transgender guidance for NI schools’.

Miss Shiels, quoted in the article, is greatly to be commended for pointing out that the guidelines recently issued to schools here with respect to children identifying as transgender are ‘caring, compassionate and positive’, and that ‘brave, enlightened leaders’ are needed if the guidelines are to be implemented.

There is, however, a curious double negativity to the sub headline of the accompanying story, ‘These guidelines negatively affect nobody’, and clearly, if concerns are being expressed, the guidelines would appear to be perceived negatively by somebody.

The important question here is perhaps less ‘who?’ than ‘why?’. In the first instance, reference is to guidelines, not to mandatory provisions.

Why should guidelines be perceived as threatening to anyone? It is perhaps self evident that these guidelines are perceived as threatening by some people because they deal with the much misrepresented, misunderstood and maligned issue of ‘transgender’ identity.

If understanding of issues relating to transgender identity is to be improved, then one way of achieving this is to explore in an open and rational way what we mean when we speak of someone being ‘transgender’.

Mr Kula’s article cites the Stonewall definition of this term, which while it has the advantage of being inclusive carries the great associated disadvantage of lack of clarity and specificity. Indeed, this definition is of the term ‘trans’, with transgender as a sub group subsumed under this broader and rather indefinite term.

In the interests of improving clarity and providing a vocabulary which allows us to address the question of transgender identity, there is likely to be great merit in making exactly such a distinction.



The question of precisely what this distinction should be and how it should be made is a topic for another discourse. For now, it may be of assistance if I offer the working definition used by Focus: the Identity Trust, which is

Transgender: the medical condition of:

  • Identifying with the gender opposite to that indicated at birth by an individual’s physical characteristics and
  • Transitioning to and living permanently in that gender.



The process by which such transition is accomplished is clearly (and deliberately) not established here, but it may include various factors such as medical treatment by hormones and/or surgery.

Mr Kula’s article refers to a ‘vetting process’ necessary if an individual is to receive a Gender Recognition Certificate. The formalities through which such a certificate may be obtained may well benefit from review, but there is a clear distinction between ‘a vetting process’ and the question of a medical diagnosis.

While there is undoubtedly great merit in giving consideration to the human rights of everyone in society, and while our society can only benefit from better understanding of all the issues raised by the ‘wide variety of terms’ (from transgender to neutrois) cited by Mr Kula, to allow this inclusivity to blur or dilute the need for clear medical provisions in relation to the prescription of medicines or surgical procedures is to do a great disservice to those who may desperately require exactly this medical treatment.

So above all, let’s be clear about precisely where any concerns in relation to the guidelines provided to schools are rooted.



Surely, if any child is questioning gender, or for that matter sexuality or sexual orientation (which is not the same thing by any means as questioning gender identity), it is as Miss Shiels states, compassionate to provide safety and security in which they can do this without fear of being shunned, bullied or ridiculed by those around them?

Mr Kula’s article raises questions that range from the right to girls for privacy to questions of gender and the right to compete in sports.

Questions of gender identity have long been the focus of concern in relation to ensuring fairness for female competitors, and undoubtedly there are sound underlying reasons for this.

However, I have yet to see a thought spared to those who transition from female to male when it comes to fairness on the sports field (or, for that matter, when it comes to questions of privacy for girls).



Perhaps schools are an ideal place to explore such issues, support creative processes associated with the development of new ideas in the very crucible that is so essential to the formation of future society?

This will need compassion, understanding, clear leadership, vision and open mindedness.

It will also need the realistic and well planned provision of appropriate resources.

We are approaching Shrove Tuesday, after which Lent provides time for those of us who profess Christianity to contemplate as we prepare for Easter.



The compassion and courage of Jesus, his visionary leadership, can surely be acknowledged by us all, irrespective of our religious conviction or lack of conviction?

Perhaps this can help us to address the scope of ‘concerns’ that may arise from transgender identity, not least the profound concerns of children (and their parents, siblings, teachers …) who may be doing their best to understand this identity?

Let’s take care not to lose this opportunity to protect the dignity, privacy and safety of all our children.

  • (Rev Dr) Linda M Ballard is CEO, Focus: the Identity Trust