The Scout Association has apologised: now can they face up to their problem?

19Dec21

The Scout Association have apologised to me for the two-year process of investigation it subjected me to after receiving a complaint for “misgendering,” when I referred to a man as “he” on Twitter.

As the Scout Association say in their apology they recognise “that it is unlawful to harass or discriminate against someone on the basis of a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010”  and will seek to ensure that the complaints process operates “without fear or favour in relation to all of the protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010.”

Even more essentially, the Scout Association must be clear that the organisation recognises that clarity about the material reality of sex is critical for safeguarding. 

The Scouts have a problem with their safeguarding culture which comes from appointing an unassailable caste, allowing unclear expectations and enabling whistleblowers to be bullied.

After reading this account you may be tempted to to engage with Gregor Murray on social media. Please don’t. Please give the Scout Association a little encouragement for making a step in the right direction and ask them what they will do next. Ask what they going to do to #FixScoutsSafeguarding.

Write to Jennie Price, the the new Chair ℅   info.centre@scouts.org.uk

Sex matters in scouting

There have been over 255 convicted cases of child sexual abuse by Scout Leaders, almost all by men. The idea that Scout Leaders can declare themselves women or non-binary and be removed from this risk category is dangerous.

Practically, scout groups are mixed sex and when organising a trip away sex matters in allocating who is sleeping where. Showers and toilets are sex separated. This is important for ordinary dignity and privacy, for safeguarding and for inclusion, including of children from religious minorities. 

It is good practice to have leaders of both sexes supervising a group. For many Cub Scouts this is their first time away without their family.  If a female Scout gets her first period on camp, or wets herself and needs assistance in the night, it is preferable that a female Scout leader is available to help. 

It is important that Scout groups know, and are able to accurately record and discuss the sex of the children and young people in their care and the sex of the adults that are in charge of them, in order to fulfil basic safeguarding and risk assessment. And that they are honest with parents.

None of this means that Scouts cannot accommodate children or adults with gender dysphoria or transgender identities.  But safeguarding must come first in developing policies that protect everyone. And this must mean not losing sight of reality, or allowing offence-taking to undermine safeguarding.

How it began: writing to Scouts about safeguarding

The story of what happened to me at Scouts goes back to October 2018. I had been an Assistant Scout Leader in St Albans for six years and was concerned about Scout’s transgender policies undermining safeguarding.  I wrote to Matt Hyde, Chief Executive, Dr Ann Limb, then Chair of the Board, Tim Kidd, UK Chief Commissioner and Frances Craven, then Chair of the Safeguarding Development Group to raise concerns. 

My concerns were:

  1. The policy told  leaders to ignore normal safeguarding.
  2. Excessive privacy restrictions  prevent leaders having (or using) information about the children in their care.
  3. Scouts confuses sex and gender and therefore fails to protect sex-based rights (particularly for women and girls).
  4. The handling of people changing their identity may undermine the appointments and vetting process.
  5. The policy appeared to be dictated by Mermaids and the Gender Trust

Several months after I wrote to the Scout Association, and after I went to meet with some of the senior staff,  they did rewrite their policy. They closed the safeguarding loophole of complete confidentiality if a child says they are trans, took a more cautious approach to encouraging child transition, and recognised the need to consider the inclusion of all.

While their previous policy said 

“volunteers who are trans should be treated as the gender they identify as, regardless of what (if any) medical or legal steps they have taken to change their gender.” 

The current policy says that organisations:

“have a legal duty to ensure trans people do not experience poor treatment, bullying or discrimination and that they have equal opportunities to participate.”

This is a subtle but important shift in their understanding. People who consider themself trans have the right to participate and not be treated poorly, but not the right to force everyone around them to act as if their sex has literally changed. 

The Scouts have not communicated this change in their understanding loudly. The loudest advocates of all things LGBTQ+ in Scouting still say that identifying as trans means having the right to be treated as if you really are the opposite sex (or as fluctuating between male and female, or not having a sex at all), and that challenging this is “transphobic”.

Most sensible adults do not believe this, but many are afraid to say. 

If the Scouts are going to fulfil their obligations for safeguarding and their pledge to ensure they do not discriminate on the basis of belief  they are going to have to make sure their policy is in line with the law and that they communicate clear expectations. 

Recording sex in individual records 

When I wrote to Scouts in 2018 their Equal Opportunity Policy did not include “sex” at all but it it did include “Gender (including gender reassignment)”.  

In the previous policy they defined gender as “our innermost understanding of our self as ‘male’ or ‘female’”. The  current policy defines it as “knowing you’re a man, woman or neither)”. 

This is a statement of belief that I and many other Scout Leaders do not share. 

Furthermore it confuses things, because most people (and the law) understand “male”, “female”, “man” and “woman” to be words that relate the objective reality of the two sexes. And these are words and concepts needed for safeguarding and risk assessment. Whereas the Scouts have repurposed these words to denote subjective feelings, and allowed a small vocal group to brand anyone who disagrees a bigot.

A record of the  identity of every scout member (scout leaders and children) is updated each year in the Scout Census recorded centrally and by local groups . It includes name, age and whether members are “male” or “female”. But this is labelled as “gender”. 

Presumably this was was originally a customary use of the word as a polite synonym for sex, but it has been repurposed to mean “gender identity” in a system that allows adults and chldren to self-identify.

This discriminates against those that don’t share the belief in gender identity and breaches data protection by misrecording their sex as if it was a belief in gender.  Most importantly: failing to record Scout leader’s sex but instead redefining “male” and “female” as self-identified characteristics is a safeguarding risk. 

At the time that I wrote to the Scout Association the policy for young people said “If the young person change’s their name / gender during their time in Scouting, ensure you change all records. You do not need any evidence or proof to do so.” And for volunteers it said “Remember to update all communication and records to the volunteer’ preferred name and pronouns. You don’t need to ask for proof or documentation of any kind to do this”.

The Scout Association were operating a system of sex self-identity (but calling it gender), and were willing to change a young person’s recorded sex without their parents consent. 

After I wrote to them they added in “sex” to the Equal Opportunites policy but they did not take out “gender”. They took out the  direct instruction to change children’s recorded “gender” (but they did not clarify not to). They did not change “gender’ into “sex” in the census.  

The Scouts Assocation are still operating a system of sex self-identity but has backed away from giving any clear guidance from HQ to  local leaders about changing a young person’s recorded sex.

What the policy should say is that the Scout Census records the sex of adult volunteers and children and young people, and that this is necessary for safeguarding and cannot be changed (whatever preferred pronouns a person uses). 

The Scouts should make sure that its policy for accomodating people who have legally changed sex via a Gender Recognition Certificate is both compliant with Section 22 of the GRA 2004 and compatible with safeguarding. It should explain how it has done this, and if it needs assistance it should ask the Equality and Human Rights Commission for guidance. 

Disregarding boundaries

Another key area where clarity is needed concerns single sex facilities such as toilets and showers.

As I wrote to the Scout Association at the time “Other children and adults can have legitimate wish not to share intimate facilities with individuals of the opposite sex. This can be because of religion, previous assault and anxiety, or simply because they value privacy from people of the opposite sex when changing etc.. Girls and women who cannot be guaranteed access to single-sex facilities may leave scouts (or not join) or not feel confident about attending camp.”

The revised policy dialed back a little from the previous policy and says “providing a range of options to everyone will not only avoid a trans person feeling singled out, uncomfortable or unsafe using facilities, but will probably make everyone else in the section feel more comfortable too.” However it still says “Trans young people should be able to use the toilets or facilities of the gender they identify as.”

I have written back several times to the Scout Association to clarify how they justify this policy of allowing males to use female toilets and showers (and vice versa) with safeguarding, and with non-discrimination.

They have written back with platitudes, leaving individual Scout Leaders to deal with the issue in practice:

“Our policies and code of conduct are clear. We are open and inclusive and that members should be respectful to each other.  It means we act in a way that is respectful of other members’ identities and beliefs, including respecting a person’s gender identity. This is to make sure that trans young people, like all young people, know that they will be welcome and supported in Scouts.”

The pile on: interpreting safeguarding as transphobia 

In 2019  I wrote an article about Scout’s updated policy and it was published by Transgender Trend.  I posted it on 1st Scouts Facebook. This is a large unofficial Facebook group of Scout Leaders. This was the first place I encountered Gregor Murray, who later complained about “misgendering”.

Murray, a Dundee councillor and Scout Leader had earlier resigned as Children’s Convenor of the local council after calling women concerned about gender self-identity roasters, utter scum, hateful and vile and calling lesbians protesting at Pride “utter c*nts”. Murray also resigned  from the SNP, claiming it had a “major institutional problem with transphobia” before being temporarily suspended as councillor by the Standards Commission for use of a “derogatory” and “highly offensive and inappropriate” words when talking to the public, referring to  gender critical women as “TERFs” (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist) and describing”TERFs” as “scum”, and “hateful and vile”. 

Murray was just one of a dozen scout leaders from around the country who joined a pile on in the Facebook group calling me a “bigot”, “scum” and “transphobe” for expressing the view that sex is real and immutable, and for wanting to talk about single sex spaces and safeguarding. 

Monica Tetley, the  male trans person  now being investigated by Girl Guides for posting pictures dressed as a dominatrix and wielding an assault rifle was also involved, agreeing with another male transperson who said “so you are saying that transwomen are male. That is really insulting to me”.

​​

I compiled screen shots of the pile on and sent them (unredacted) to the Scout Association Matt Hyde, CEO, Tina  Wilson, Head of Safeguarding and Donna Bennett, Head of volunteering. 

I set out in detail the pattern of troubling behaviours that were demonstrated:

  1. NAME CALLING AND BULLYING.  I and the one other female scout leader who said  the new guidance was sensible were called TERFs, bigots, scum, hateful and transphobes. Our credentials as scout leaders were questioned and I was told i was unfit to be a scout leader. 
  2. ANY DISCUSSION OF THE FACT OF BIOLOGICAL SEX CONDEMNED AS ‘TRANSPHOBIC’. Any discussion of the fact that children and adults who identify as the opposite ‘gender’ remain their biological sex, and that this has implications for dignity, privacy and boundaries of others and for planning and risk assessment on camp etc… was dismissed as transphobic and “misgendering”
  3.  SEEKING TO UNDERMINE GIRL’S BOUNDARIES. No recognition that girls and women can legitimately object to sharing intimate spaces with people with male bodies including male genitalia
  4. USING SUICIDE  AS A THREAT
  5. RECOMMENDING NOT TALKING TO PARENTS. Suggests that Scout Leaders  follow child’s self ID to undertake social transition – and should overrule and not communicate with parents if they disagree
  6. DEFLECTING FROM SAFEGUARDING CONCERNS BY SMEARING THOSE WITH CONCERNS. Rather than talk about safeguarding they resort to insults and smears of myself and of Transgender Trend.
  7. EXCLUSION AND SILENCING OF THOSE WITH CONCERNS. Ultimately whether by force of numbers or connections with the administrators of the 1st Scouts FB group they had me blocked from the group and the thread taken down.   

The response from Tina Wilson, Head of Safeguarding was to say she was disappointed that I had published an article without contacting the Scout Association first (I had contacted them about the new policy, they hadn’t replied, there is no rule to say you have to ask Headquarters before writing something about Scouts in a personal capacity). 

In response to the pile-on she told me that I could raise a complaint against each of the individuals involved. This would have meant a dozen different complaints being dealt with by a dozen different local volunteers around the country. What I wanted Scouts HQ to do was understand the pattern of behaviour that they were enabling. 

As i wrote:

“The 1st Facebook Scouts conversation that i sent you revealed that there are a vocal group of leaders who believe that the appropriate (and morally correct) response to someone stating that girls in scouting have a right to have their boundaries respected in relation to changing, showering or share a tent with male people, is to call her a bigot, TERF, scum, not fit to be in scouting etc…., to try to undermine her reputation in other ways, and to use suicide threats.

The issue is not so much that I may want to make a complaint about an individual, it is that these attitudes are deeply worrying and appear to be deeply ingrained. Scouts training, guidance and policies should make clear that including children and volunteers who identify as trans in scouting does not require or justify excluding, bullying or browbeating other children and volunteers to pretend that male bodies are female bodies (and vice versa) or to undermine consent on their part.”

The Scout Association did not take up my concerns, or my encouragement to meet with Transgender Trend.

Instead when Gregor Murray complained about misgendering and called Transgender Trend a hate group they launched an investigation of me that would only be finally resolved more than two years and four investigation reports later, when they apologised for their treatment of me. 

The process is the punishment. 

The crime: “Misgendering”

Following the 1st Scouts Facebook pile on  Murray posted this on Twitter.

I quote tweeted Murray’s tweet commenting on the use of “TERFS”,  forgetting to use the pronoun “they”

Murray raised this as a complaint to the Scouts, accusing me “spreading lies and misinformation” by saying Murray was suspended, and of “breaking Scout Law”. I responded that the “migendering” was not intentional, but that the complaint was vexatious and intended to bully me and deter leaders in Scouts from discussing issues relating to the organisation’s transgender policy. 

I submitted a statement and a dossier of evidence of Murray’s behaviour to show that the complaint was vexatious: Murray’s suspension as a councillor,  Murray’s accusations of transphobia hurled at respected female Scottish politicians and journalists, and a defence of myself against Murray’s accusations that I had lied and spread misinformation. 

Murray’s complaint stated that Murray was “not a man”. I explained that Murray quite clearly is a man and the Scout Association has a responsibility to know this. 

The Scout Association simply ignored my statement and supporting evidence. 

I was told to apologise to Murray. I declined. Murray then appealed the handling of complaint, submitted another complaint against me, made a safeguarding referral about me, and submitted a complaint against the woman who had handled the complaint.

Over the course of two years Scouts have written four investigation reports prompted by my two tweets where I call Murray “he”. They have been myopically focused on the “misgendering” offence to the exclusion of all else.

How this all ended up in my employment tribunal 

My employment tribunal case and the investigation by Scouts became intertwined  because you are required to include all relevant documents in disclosures. So my response to Scouts went into the evidence bundle. 

Employment Judge James Tayler picked up the “misgendering” incident and my defense of myself to Scouts to support his judgment that my  views were “not worthy of respect in a democratic society”. 

In my  response to the Scout Association I had stated:

“ If I was to come across Murray or any other male in the women’s changing showers or toilets at scout camp I would have no hesitation in referring to that person as “he”, whatever their professed gender identity, removing myself and supporting other women to remove themselves and in reporting the incident”. 

Judge Tayler called this an “absolutist” view of sex, and cited my statement to the Scouts as evidence I “would refer to a person by the sex she considered appropriate even if it violates their dignity and/or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment”.  He chided me for not “seeking to accommodate Gregor Murray’s legitimate wishes”.

This was to me, the most shocking part of the judgment; I am describing the need clear language to protect women and girls from the all too common crime of exposure and voyeurism, the judge’s concern was that the victim should  not creating an intimidating or hostile environment for the perpetrator. Indeed, by the use of language the experience whitewashes the offence away entirely: you weren’t frightened and harassed by a man in the showers, you are a bigot for not respecting their gender identity.

After the ET judgement,  Scouts went on to quote Judge Tayler’s argument (made on the basis of my statement they had ignored when I first submitted it to them) to justify their treatment of me and say that I was, perhaps, not fit to be a Scout Leader.

Tayler’s judgement was overturned in the Employment Appeal Tribunal in June 2021. But the process with the Scout Association continued. 

When I formally complained about their treatment of me, which I had from the start said was bullying the Scout Association dragged their heels, and then appointed trustee Graham Haddock to investigate. He wrote a report accusing me of  bringing Scouts into disrepute and saying that I “ could have been suspended as a Scout Leader”. 

The Scout Association apologises 

I have stood my ground and demanded to be treated fairly. Eventually this week the Scout Association issued an apology saying 

“The evidence that you provided in response to the complaint, to demonstrate that it was vexatious was not considered at the appropriate time by the Scout Association. If it had been, the complaint may well have been found to have been vexatious.

In any case it is clear you did not deliberately misgender the complainant in order to cause harm and did not spread lies and misinformation about them, as alleged in their complaint about you.

The Scout Association therefore apologises for the experience you have encountered through this process which has gone on for over two years.

The Scout Association recognizes that it is unlawful to harass or discriminate against someone on the basis of a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, and will seek to ensure that its complaints process operates without fear or favour in relation to all of the protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010.”

I have accepted the apology. But I have left Scouts this year, as the organisation made it a hostile environment. I loved being a Cub Scout Leader, but I couldn’t stay.

I hope the Scouts will learn from this process. They are a great movement, that do so much for so many children. The vast majority of volunteers are decent, dedicated, sensible people.

But the organisations policies and culture have become corrupted.

Policies for accomodating people living with gender dysphoria must not be allowed to be used to corrode safeguarding culture

In responding to my initial safeguarding concerns, and Murray’s “misgendering” complaint, they have continually focused on protecting the Scout Association’s reputation, to the exclusion of everything else.

This lesson that organisations will do this, and that they will blame victims, is one that has been highlighted again and again in safeguarding failures.

The Head of Safeguarding Tina Wilson told the Independent Inquiry on Child Sexual Abuse in 2019 that culture and prevention, transparency, and clear rules are critical:

“I think certainly  for us in scouting, that prevention part is that number one priority and by that I mean fostering that absolute open and transparent culture, that means that everybody knows the rules of engagement […] we have a code of practice that everybody has that everybody knows what to do, what they should do, what they shouldn’t do, and also that if they have any concern, that they are to report it to a central safeguarding team.”

“That allows us to pick up on the low-level concerns, that allows us to be able to manage where people are starting to show grooming behaviour which potentially puts young people at risk….”

“So if we can make sure that everyone knows the rules — that’s young people, that’s parents, that’s the professionals — “These are the rules of our engagement”, that’s ultimately what will, I think, keep young people safe.”

Yet their rules about recording the sex of Scout Leaders and young members are blurred, not clear. The language by which they talk about men and women, male and female, girls and boys is not clear. 

Their rules allowing male Scout Leaders to use female-only spaces, and coerce and bully girls who object, do not allow the Scout Association to pick up on low-level concerns and grooming behaviour but encourage it. 

Their culture of responding to offence-taking is deeply concerning. The culture of FLAGScouts (whose website has recently disappeared but which previously contained a post by Aimee Challenor exhorting eight-year old girls to  “show respect’ by saying she) is concerning. 

It should be made clear in training – it is not offensive in itself to call a male person male. Anyone who takes extravagant offence at this is not fit to work with children. Scout Leaders and staff must be trained not to let theatrical accusations of transphobia (or homophobia, or racism for that matter) frighten them and deter them from protecting children. 

The Scouts will now be called “transphobic” for apologising to me. This is a theatrical accusation designed to deter them from protecting children. They must get over the fear this word instills, stop giving in to bullies and stick to safeguarding principles. The vast majority of Scout Leaders and parents will support them if they do.

They should meet with Transgender Trend, as I have been asking them to do since 2018.

I hope the someone at The Scout Association, The Charity Commission the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Ofsted and any of the other adults in the room will recognise that this treatment of me by Scouting is part of a pattern:

  • Organisations do not know how to deal with accusations of “transphobia”.
  • Accusations of transphobia are used to distract from serious discussion of safeguarding.
  • Whistleblowers who point this out are targeted for for bullying and harassment.
After reading this account you may be tempted to engage with Gregor Murray on social media.
Please don’t. 

Please give the Scout Association some recognition for apologising and ask them what they will do next to #FixScoutsSafeguarding

Write to their Chair (particularly if you are a Scout Leader or parent) asking them what they will do next to ensure that gender critical Scout Leaders and Scouts are not discriminated against or harassed in future, and how they will ensure that boundaries are not transgressed by Scout Leaders who believe their personal conception of gender identity overrides the rules put in place to protect everyone. 

Write to Jennie Price, the new Chair ℅   info.centre@scouts.org.uk


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