Subscribe to our weekly round-up of the LGBTQIA+ world and support queer creatives to kick start their career 🏳️‍⚧️🏳️‍🌈

Teacher’s gender-critical beliefs protected but his actions weren’t, Employment Tribunal rules

Teacher’s gender-critical beliefs protected but his actions weren’t, Employment Tribunal rules

Jamie Wareham
Jamie Wareham
TL;DR: An employment tribunal sided with a college who fired a teacher for bullying and harassing a transgender student. It affirms what previous high profile 'gender critical' employment tribunals have found: beliefs are protected, but acting on them to discriminate is not.

An employment tribunal has dismissed a teacher's complaint that he was unfairly sacked for refusing to refer to students by their correct pronouns. Kevin Lister, 60, was dismissed for gross misconduct in September 2022 by New College Swindon - BBC

Part of Lister's argument focused around the protection of his ‘gender critical’ beliefs. That's why it's such an important case. It affirms what previous high-profile 'gender critical' employment tribunals have found: that while beliefs may be protected, using them to discriminate is not.

However, this nuance has been left out of most media coverage of previous tribunals. So-called ‘gender critical' campaigners have gone largely unchallenged in claims that these rulings mean their beliefs are valid in all forms. This is most notable in the case of Maya Forstater.

In Lister's case, the media were quick to repeat gender-critical rhetoric around the tribunal - yet they barely covered its outcome.

What did we learn in the tribunal?

60-year-old teacher Kevin Lister claimed unfair dismissal in an employment tribunal with New College Swindon after he was sacked for gross misconduct in September 2022 following complaints by two students. The teacher refused to call a 17-year-old transgender teen by their pronouns in A-level lessons - Sky News

The tribunal was told by the college's ex-principal that Lister "consistently" humiliated and bullied the student, including by writing the student’s deadname up on the board. He denied violating the student's dignity. Carole Kitching, who was the college's principal and chief executive at the time, told the hearing it was the way Mr Lister's "gender critical" beliefs were manifested that led to his dismissal, and not the views themselves - BBC

The tribunal agreed with the college and found his sacking lawful.

In a striking note, the documents published through the tribunal revealed that another student set the complaint in motion on behalf of the bullied student because of the injustice they'd witnessed - Trans Dad

Analysis: Where was the media reporting on this?

This was just the latest employment tribunal centred around ‘gender critical’ beliefs to get a disproportionate amount of coverage by the media.

Or it was, until the verdict came down against the teacher. There was a notable lack of articles reporting on the verdict from the outlets that had initially painted Lister as the victim. Sky News, The Daily Mail and The Telegraph spent years covering the story - but none of them reported on the ruling.

By not telling the whole story, they’re leaving out the most crucial takeaway from this case.

Other high-profile employment tribunal cases have centred around 'beliefs' and whether people had the right to share them, especially on social media. Rulings have agreed with them.

But despite claims from 'gender critical' campaigners that this justified their actions, those decisions were largely a result of organisations not having adequate policies to justify firing their former employees.

Crucially, in each case these tribunals have ruled that enacting these beliefs for the purpose of discrimination was unlawful.

In this case, the college won its tribunal for dismissing the teacher because of how he acted on his views, not because he had them.

It will come as no surprise to anyone who understood the rulings. But it is a significant chink in the armour of the ‘gender critical’ argument.

If only the media had played its part in sharing that reality instead of quietly ignoring a crucial part of the story - just because it doesn't fit its narrative.

Seriously - where was the media on this story?

Employment Tribunals don't usually get national media stories. But a series of tribunals focusing on 'gender-critcial' beliefs have.

Time and again, media reporting skewed the real picture that even if beliefs are protected, discrimination isn't.

That should have been in the headlines as much as their victories were. There was even a distinct lack of coverage on this crucial ruling in the gay press this week.

At QueerAF, we're going against the grain and investing in new queer talent while reporting on crucial underserved stories, so we can all understand what's going on.

We hope you can use that knowledge to make informed, empowered decisions towards queer liberation in the UK.

If you believe in more people knowing, understanding and navigating the LGBTQIA+ world - to make it better for all of us - then this is just for you. 

In the time it takes for your hot cross bun to become golden brown, you can join our community of supporters that make our queer accountability journalism possible. Do it now.