Labelled bigots and cast out – for protecting our child’s innocence
Upset by their child’s confusion when a six-year-old classmate changed gender, they took their son out of school. Little did they know the hatred it would unleash
To witness the vilification of Christian parents nigel and sally Rowe this week, you’d have thought they’d not just broken each and every one of the ten Commandments but hurled Moses’ stone tablet from the silenced bell tower of Big Ben as well.
take the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire show, during which their religious ideals were said to be ‘as extremist as people like isis’. or this Morning’s Phillip schofield, who hectored them: ‘You are the ones with the problem.’
their problem? to voice concern about their six-year-old son’s ‘confusion’ when a classmate began turning up to his Church of england primary school asking to be treated as a girl one day and a boy the next, which flew in the face of the family’s Christian beliefs.
the school responded with a letter defending its approach on pupils ‘exploring their gender’ and warning how ‘incredibly seriously’ it would take any ‘transphobic behaviour’, such as the failure ‘to use [the pupil’s] adopted name or using gender inappropriate pronouns’.
Given their son is at an age when he hasn’t yet mastered joined-up writing, let alone the politics of personal pronouns, the Rowes, who also have a son aged eight, were horrified.
they have since removed him from his school on the isle of wight and are now bringing a legal challenge in the hope that guidelines — that require schools to accept the wishes of children and their families regarding gender identity, and which are being rolled out in schools the length and breadth of Britain — will be open to public scrutiny.
‘My son still believes in Father Christmas. He is six years old. it’s an age of beautiful naivety,’ says sally, 42, a housewife and part-time teaching assistant.
‘they should be exploring nature, playing ball on the beach, skateboarding — doing the things boys do. You think: “why can’t they just let children be children?”
‘imagine going into school at six without knowing whether the boy sitting next to you is going to be Johnny or Julie today. then having to treat them like a girl if they’ve decided they’re a girl — or a boy if they’ve decided that today they’re going to be Johnny.
‘this transgender agenda is almost like a trendy thing that’s infiltrating schools, and if you don’t subscribe to it you are a bully. the hatred we’ve received is . . . is . . . ’
sally is in tears now. she stops. Collects herself. ‘this is painful for us, really painful,’ she says. ‘we’ve been so churned up. this is our community, our friends and now . . . now . . . ’
‘now’ sally’s phone pings with nasty texts, while nigel, who runs his own plumbing company after giving up his job as an aerospace engineer, has received numerous vitriolic phone calls and emails. He looks as if he’s barely slept a wink in the week since announcing their legal challenge.
these are not hard-hearted bigots. indeed, they only took this stand after a great deal of soul-searching, for each of them was deeply involved in the community and the school. so much so that they took part in a school assembly each week and helped with reading classes.
indeed, when a boy in their elder son’s class announced in a show and tell lesson two years ago that she had decided to be a girl and wanted to be addressed by a girl’s name, the Rowes, owing to their close friendship with the child’s parents, resolved to live and let live.
this time, however, they felt the situation was asking too much of very young children.
‘this boy in our youngest son’s class, who’s six at the moment, decides one day to be a girl and the next to be a boy,’ says nigel, 46.
‘one night i was putting the boys to bed, reading them a bedtime story and having a little chat as we do every night, when my son said, “Daddy i’m confused. How can — let’s call him Peter — be a boy one day and a girl the next?” it was really upsetting him. At least if the child was a girl all the time you’d have some chance of explaining.
‘we wrote to the school expressing our concerns and received that letter about transphobic bullying back. we felt we had no choice but to do what we’ve done.
‘it wasn’t an easy decision. we care for these families. we care for the school. this is not about them. we are challenging the education authority and the diocese on the guidelines they’re giving. we believe they’re quoting from laws [the equality Act 2010] that don’t apply in this situation; that’s because the age of when someone is legally recognised as transgender is 18.’ His eyes rest on a happy family photograph taken months ago. He shakes his head and is visibly upset. sally rubs his arm.
‘when we went to see the head and deputy head to tell them we were removing our son from school, they said: “to be honest we’re not surprised,”’ she says.
‘the head told us: “we’ve done everything we’ve been told to do. i have no choice. if a child wants to come as whatever, i have to accept it or i could lose my job.” ’
now sally shakes her head in despair. she is, she confesses, ‘scared stiff’. such is the hate campaign being waged against them she is terrified for her family’s safety.
time and again this gently-spoken couple have questioned whether they should have taken this stand. in truth, i suspect they often wish that they hadn’t.
For they are an easy-going, outdoorsy couple more comfortable on the beach with their boys than in a tV studio.
they are also, though, people of conscience who, while fully accepting that not everyone shares their Christian values or their views on gender identity, believe in their right to bring their children up according to their religious beliefs without being forced to submit to the wishes of the rainbow activists.
After all, imagine the condemnation had sally or nigel accused these activists of being ‘as extremist as people like isis’. this is what one Lesbian Gay Bisexual transgender (LGBt) campaigner was allowed to label the Rowes’ fellow Christians without so much as a raised eyebrow on the BBC.
‘it’s all so bizarre,’ says sally. ‘nothing seems real any more.’
take, for instance, a discussion on a BBC current affairs programme this week during which it was claimed that the mother of the older transgender child had said her daughter, who is eight, was ‘scared’ following the Rowes’ stand. the couple were lambasted for airing their grievance so very publicly when the interests of vulnerable children were at stake.
that child, however, is the very same one whose mother plastered her story over the pages of a tabloid newspaper two years ago after she decided to become a girl.
sally says they had known this child’s family since pre-school and the mother had spoken to her a number of years ago about her then son becoming more interested in stereotypically girls’ toys, such as Barbies, and more feminine in his behaviour.
‘she said she didn’t know what to do. i told her not to worry. there’s often a bit of confusion, isn’t there?’
things changed, according to nigel, after the BBC broadcast Louis theroux’s transgender Kids documentary in April 2015.
‘i believe that was the catalyst for the whole of Britain,’ he says. ‘the statistics for transgender children went from something like 300 to 3,000 after that programme.
‘i remember speaking to the child’s dad in the playground after the documentary and he said: “He wants to be a girl, but i’m not sure. we’re going to discuss it.” it went from that to the child announcing in show and tell: “i am now a girl.”
‘our son came home and said, matter-of-factly, so-and-so’s now called, let’s say sarah, and is now a girl. we didn’t want to make a big thing about it because our son was only six. But gradually questions started.
‘they’re like: “A boy can be a girl?” “A girl can be a boy?” “A boy can marry a boy?” that’s fine with some people, but as Christians we believe marriage is between a man and a woman.
‘our boys don’t even know how a baby is made. they know it came out of mummy’s tummy but that’s about it. Gender for them is trying to work out why they have a willy and mummy doesn’t.’
the Rowes muddled through school with their elder son for another year. sally says he became increasingly withdrawn and reluctant to go in. they decided to home school him at the end of Year 2.
‘“sarah” was wearing skirts and had grown her hair by then.
‘But it has nothing to do with boys
‘Saying it’s about a boy in a dress is trivialising it’ Their phones ping with vitriolic texts, emails and calls
wearing frocks,’ says Nigel, who spent much of his childhood in Africa, where his father worked as an economic adviser to developing countries receiving aid.
‘If a child came into school in a kilt or a sarong, it wouldn’t bother me. When I’m in Kenya I wear a sarong.
‘Saying this is about us being upset that a boy is turning up to school in a dress is trivialising it.’
Sally nods: ‘My youngest son has dressed up in girls’ stuff. He has a fancy-dress box and used to love dressing up as Supergirl. It’s just experimenting. Kids experiment. You don’t make a thing of it.
‘Academics and medical professionals are divided on whether we should introduce young children to transgender policies.
‘Ninety-eight per cent of genderconfused children stick with their biological sex once they’ve gone through puberty.
‘How many of us were tomboys when we were little but enjoy being women now?’
Their younger son was part way through Year 1 when the second child — the one currently confused about their gender — joined the school. Sally and Nigel’s youngest told his parents: ‘One day he was a boy and the next day a girl,’ which ‘confused’ him, and they decided enough was enough. The exchange of letters followed, leading to where they are today. They went public on their decision about legal action last week.
On Saturday night the mother of the older transgender child, Sally’s friend, phoned at 10.45pm. ‘She said: “I can’t believe it. You’ve got the kindest heart, how could you do this to me?” She broke down and kept sobbing: “How could you do this,” ’ Sally recalls.
‘I said: “I haven’t mentioned your name. I haven’t mentioned the children. I haven’t mentioned the school. I care for you but you have to understand our feelings.” Then she put on Facebook: “Sally Rowe is going to sue my beautiful daughter’s school.”
‘I sent a text saying: “This isn’t about you. I’m not attacking you.”
‘This is a concern for children all over the country. We have to take a stand. We’re taking legal action so these guidelines that affect all of our children can be debated and scrutinised publicly.
‘The last I heard from her she said: “I am going to the police tomorrow because this is inciting hate.” I’d explained to her before that we’re not being hateful.
‘We’re doing this because we’re concerned. If anything, we’re going to receive the hatred.’ Which they have, by the bucket-load. So much so that there is a sense of bewilderment today, as if they’ve fallen down Alice In Wonderland’s rabbit hole and nothing is the same. ‘Some mums have texted to say: “I’m sending you a big hug” but don’t want to speak publicly.
‘One parent texted on Sunday to say: “Big love from our family and you’re in our hearts and thoughts,” but nobody wants to put themselves through the hostility we’ve faced...’ Again, she is on the verge of tears.
‘We’re trying to keep a low profile. The people who are lovely and supportive have told us to keep off social media. There’s been a torrent of nastiness. It does churn us up. It does affect you, the foul language, the ranting down the phone. Nigel’s tummy has been in knots since last Saturday.’ She nods to her husband.
‘I don’t understand it,’ says Nigel. ‘When you go to hospital and your child is born, they lift them up and say: “It’s a boy” or “It’s a girl.” That’s the way it’s been for centuries.
‘Why is there now such a social agenda to change that?’
Making a stand: Nigel and Sally, above, and with their two sons, whose identities we have obscured