‘Futurelearn, the government’s online course marketing company, was offering an Open University course written by Gendered Intelligence called Understanding Gender Identity: Trans People in the Workplace. Unfortunately the content was inaccurate, unevidenced, unbalanced, out of date and in conflict with Futurelearn’s values of openness and correcting mistakes.
After a detailed complaint by OBJECT, the course has been withdrawn for review. Given the length of our complaint (see below) we think it will take them a while. It’s still up on the website but with a note that they will email you when it becomes available again. We will of course be checking it closely when that happens!
One of our management committee, Dr. Anna Cleaves, recently took your online Open University course ‘Understanding Gender Identity –Trans people in the workplace’ and was shocked at the gross inaccuracies and misrepresentations she found. We are seriously concerned about this course:
- The course does not define its key terms – nowhere is there a definition of gender, masculine or feminine, for example.
- It does not offer evidence for many of its unsubstantiated assertions: for example it states unequivocally and without evidence that 1% of people’ are trans’ (Course Material: Welcome to the Course). The term ‘intersex’ is wrongly used interchangeably with trans and it is inaccurately stated that 1-2% of people are intersex (Course Material: Challenging Assumptions). The correct statistic is 1 in 4,500 or 0.02% but higher in babies born to co-sanguinous parents: 1.3 per 1000 or 0.13% (Banu Kucukemre Aydin et al. 2019).
Intersex identity is said to be decided by parents, an outdated approach since the 2013 UN report on intersex conditions.
- Vitally important facts are omitted, for example that hormones and surgery cause permanent sterility and damage body integrity and functioning. There are UK court cases and a Judicial Review pending at present by detransitioner Keira Bell and by ex-Tavistock clinic nurse Susan Evans which claim that the drugs given to gender-dysphoric children are harmful and that minors cannot consent to them. Yet your course fails to cover any potential harmful effects of trans drugs.
- The course selectively quotes authorities in such a way as to distort their intended meaning, for example it quotes the Women and Equalities Committee 2015 as saying ‘ The medicalised approach runs contrary to dignity and personal autonomy’ when elsewhere the Committee said that they were ‘were unconvinced by the arguments put forward -by organisations like Gendered Intelligence that the NHS should simply grant on demand whatever treatment patients request.’ (www.parliament.uk/transgenderequality)
- It presents only one side of a huge and complex tangle of arguments about transgender ideology on which both the government and the NHS have just (15.6.2020) announced huge and far-reaching policy changes), as leaked to the Sunday Times and covered in the Mail on Sunday of that date. BBC Newsnight 18.6.20 covered serious shortcomings at the Tavistock Gender Identity Clinic, including homophobic parents wanting their children to be trans not gay, and the director asking clinicians not to refer grave concerns to the Safeguarding lead. It is inaccurate to ignore all these issues and present the trans issue as if there were general agreement on it.
- Gender dysphoria is treated as an established fact (Course Material: What is Gender Dysphoria?), although Withers (2018) argues differently, presenting evidence that it is a psychological disorder with no biological basis, often spread by social contagion. To be balanced, the course should at least present these viewpoints for discussion.
- The course does not meet its stated aim ‘to increase understanding of gender diversity’. In fact it does the opposite, reinforcing the rigid outdated gender binary, ie stereotypical concepts of ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’. These are social, changeable constructs which should be presented as such. Instead, in the course section Understanding Sex and Gender, gender is presented as innate and immutable. Biological sex is said to be assigned: please let us have the evidence for this. We believe it to be a faith statement and as such unsuitable for inclusion in the course.
- There is one key fact which any course on this topic needs to account for unless it can offer evidence to the contrary:
There is not a single extensive peer reviewed long-term medical or psychological study which shows that changing ‘gender’ makes people happier or healthier in the long term Guardian.
If you do not accept this, please provide evidence to the contrary, bearing in mind that self-report studies of potential actions are not high quality evidence and ‘long term’ means over at least 10 years. See also page 37 of the 2020 Civitas report on transgenderism.
Evidence in the course which suggests that ‘sex reassignment that includes hormonal interventions in individuals with GID improves gender dysphoria’ is elsewhere described as ‘very low quality’. Why would you cite low quality evidence?
- This course is written solely by Gendered Intelligence, a transactivist organisation which denies that sex is a biological fact and claims that gender resides in the brain. Highly respected academics such as Professor Cordelia Fine, winner of the Royal Society Science Prize 2017, evidences neuroscience to contradict the claims made in this course that brains are gendered male and female from birth. Gina Rippon, Prof Sheila Jeffreys and Dr Heather Brunskell-Evans have also published extensively on this topic citing differing views from that of Gendered Intelligence. Why has this work not been considered? Oxfordshire and Warwickshire County Council who issued guidance to schools along lines promoted by Gendered Intelligence have recently been forced by parental pressure to withdraw it. A number of other organisations have also critiqued the information offered up by Gendered Intelligence and found it seriously wanting: eg Transgender Trend and fairplayfor women
- The existence of detransitioners (now represented by the Detransitioners Advocacy Network clearly indicates that changing gender does not work for everyone so why is it presented so uncritically? The same goes for transwidows, ie the wives of men who have transitioned. These are now represented by an organisation called Transwidows Voices.
- The course contradicts the views of a number of prominent trans people – Debbie Hayton, Miranda Yardley as well as the views of cross-dressers like Grayson Perry. A number of UK broadsheet newspapers have also published again and again material critical of the attitude represented by your course. JK Rowling has now entered the fray, but from the bubble of your course students get no clue that there is any controversy around this topic.
- The critically important nature/nurture debate is mentioned early in the course with a promise to come back to it later, but it is never discussed again.
A number of us at OBJECT have degrees from Futurelearn’s partner organisations and are concerned that the reputations of these institutions might be sullied by association with such a one-sided and ill-presented course. We look forward to your urgent response before we contact them.
The content of this course is in direct conflict with Futurelearn’s stated values of openness and transparency: it is not transparent to present one view of an issue which affects people’s lives and well-being as if there were general agreement about it when the opposite is true. To do so is partisan, one-sided and unworthy of an educational institution. We note that you also commit to learn from your failures. Please do not hesitate to act on this instance of failure immediately. You say that Futurelearn is for everyone which sounds commendable but it would be a tragedy if (as Dr Cleaves experienced) parents or grandparents of children wrongly identified as trans were, as a result of doing your course, to fail to consider alternative options before the child in question takes drugs with irreversible consequences for their later health and fertility. If this were to happen, Futurelearn would be complicit and at risk of legal repercussions.
Here a good, recent and balanced independent Civitas summary of the entire issue, showing how eccentrically out of line your course is.
We call on you to withdraw this course immediately (by mid-July) until it can be revised and put onto a basis of evidence. Or does your stated value of ‘openness’ extend to inclusion of one-sided opinionated training materials critiqued all over the media and contradicted by prize-winning scientists?