Maths teacher sacked for refusing to use student’s preferred pronouns, tribunal told

Kevin Lister said he didn’t want to help with the student’s ‘social transitioning’

Rod Minchin
Tuesday 19 March 2024 14:34 GMT
Related: Irish teacher suspended from school, jailed over transgender pronouns row

A maths teacher was sacked for refusing to use a student’s preferred pronouns, an employment tribunal has been told.

Kevin Lister was dismissed for gross misconduct in September 2022 by New College Swindon following complaints by two students.

The 60-year-old had refused to refer to a student, aged 17, by his preferred name and he/him pronouns in A-level lessons.

Mr Lister has taken the college to an employment tribunal, claiming unfair dismissal, discrimination or victimisation on grounds of religion or belief, and that he suffered a detriment and/or dismissal due to exercising rights under the Public Interest Disclosure Act.

The hearing was told that the socially transitioning male – known only as Student A – had informed the college in September 2021 he wished to be addressed with male pronouns.

Giving evidence, Mr Lister, from Wiltshire, suggested the decision of Student A to use male pronouns had the effect of “compelled speech” – meaning he and fellow students had to follow the student’s wish, irrespective of their own beliefs.

“I took issue with the demand on me to socially transition children who are unable to make an informed decision,” he told the hearing at the Bristol Civil Justice Centre.

“That is the intention of the policy – to encourage children to socially transition and to push them towards transgender lobby groups.

“Why are we not allowed to question why a student is presenting in the opposite sex?

“It is not the role of a maths teacher to confirm the gender transition and social transition of a student.”

Mr Lister said that, as a teacher, he had an “obligation to teach facts” and said college policies went beyond the Equality Act and claimed they were “illegal” as a result.

“I do say this is breaching the Equality Act because you are encouraging the idea that a non-binary person can come into class and say she is a boy and by the afternoon she can say somewhere between the two,” he said.

Referring to the college policy, Mr Lister said: “It doesn’t require gender-critical people to change their beliefs.

“What the policy does require is to be accepting in a way that is contrary to our beliefs.”

Jude Shepherd, the barrister representing the college, suggested the policy did not prevent staff members holding gender-critical beliefs from being “inclusive and treating people with respect”.

Mr Lister told the hearing that, when Student A informed him by email of his wish to be referred to by male pronouns, he immediately raised a safeguarding concern with the college as he was concerned about the student’s academic performance and whether the two were linked.

“She does not have the right to compel teachers and other students who do not share her views,” he said.

“It is the interpretation of the word ‘respect’ which is at issue here.”

The hearing was told that during lessons Mr Lister, instead of using Student A’s preferred pronouns, would point at the pupil.

“I gestured. Some people would say I was pointing. I didn’t want to use her dead name but I didn’t want to assist with her social transitioning,” Mr Lister said.

During one lesson, Student A asked whether he could enter a nationwide maths competition for girls, and Mr Lister replied: “Of course you can enter because you are a girl.”

Ms Shepherd asked: “Do you accept that was an insensitive response?”

Mr Lister replied: “No, that was a factual response. Student A is trying to subject me to compelled speech and the rest of the class to compelled speech.

“It was upsetting for the rest of the class to be subjected to that. The rest of the class didn’t look happy – some of the students rolled their eyes.”

Asked to explain why he had written Student A’s “dead name” on the class whiteboard, Mr Lister replied: “I put her name on the board in the name she would be entered into the competition.

“I don’t accept it was a dead name. I make the point that the name I wrote on the board is the name she would be using to enter her into the girls’ maths competition.”

Mr Lister said Student A stayed behind after class to speak to him about the competition because he was worried he might do badly.

Mr Lister said he tried to encourage Student A and offered to organise one-to-one sessions at lunchtime and then called him “an excellent young lady”.

“I wanted her to believe in herself,” he said. “Maybe that was a clumsy thing to say. That was the best thing I could say to a young lady in front of me in floods of tears.”

Ms Shepherd said: “You told them transitioning was irreversible.”

Mr Lister replied: “That’s the whole point of it. That’s a fact.”

The hearing continues.

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