Former government advisor gets rape and death threats for suggesting gender-neutral language in schools

‘The main thrust of my argument was this: a sense of belonging is one of the five fundamental psychological human needs’

Sally Hayden
Saturday 25 November 2017 13:23
Natasha Devon was awarded an MBE for services to young people in 2015
Natasha Devon was awarded an MBE for services to young people in 2015

Mental health campaigner Natasha Devon has described receiving rape and death threats after speaking publicly about teachers using gender-neutral language.

The Department for Education’s former mental health tsar began experiencing the abuse after she gave a presentation at the Girls’ School Association annual conference this week.

During her hour-long speech, she spoke for about five minutes on sexuality and gender, and mentioned she thinks educators could consider addressing groups of students with gender-neutral language to promote inclusivity.

In a column on the “teaching resources” website, Ms Devon wrote: “The main thrust of my argument was this: a sense of belonging is one of the five fundamental psychological human needs. In making sweeping assumptions about gender, sexuality and identity we can create a culture in which anyone who deviates from the established archetypes feels excluded from the community and therefore doesn’t have this need fulfilled.”

Ms Devon said several schools do this already, including the City of London Girls’ School, which asks speakers specifically to refer to year groups as “students” rather than “girls” or “ladies” because they want to be as inclusive as possible.

Afterwards, she said, she was questioned by the press and told them “I don’t think it’s helpful to keep reminding pupils of their gender in a learning environment.” She added subsequent misreporting had changed the meaning of what she said.

“I received death and rape threats, messages questioning my sanity, calling me a “f**king idiot”, trying to insult me through the prism of questioning my own gender, calling me fat and ugly, suggesting I should be burned as a witch and, perhaps most offensively, claiming that I am single-handedly responsible for the current poor mental health of British children.”

Some of the messages she received called her “a fat, horrible slag.” Another said “I hope you die,” while a third insulted her appearance.

“You shouldn’t be going into schools promoting this agenda/lunacy,” another message said.

Ms Devon said she contacted Twitter about the messages, but got a response saying none of them violated Twitter’s rules.

She also said she remains concerned about the reaction to her remarks.

“I worry that, for the next few months, if my name happens to be mentioned in a pub, or an office, or school the next words spoken will be: ‘Isn’t she the one who says we aren’t allowed to say girls or boys any more? PC Gone Mad! Nothing wrong with being a girl/boy!’

“That is how the media, for all the magnificent work it does to raise awareness of mental health, shuts down some of the complex conversations we need to have in order to better understand it.”

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