We must be free to blaspheme against the gender cult

The sacking of a teacher for refusing to use ‘preferred pronouns’ is a grave assault on freedom of conscience.

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill
chief political writer

Topics Free Speech Identity Politics UK

Want to read spiked ad-free? Become a spiked supporter.

So we can now add Britain to the list of countries where you can be sacked for refusing to bow down to the state religion. Only where in Iran it’s Muhammad you must venerate if you wish to dodge officialdom’s long finger of judgement, in the UK it’s the gender ideology. How else to explain the sacking of a schoolteacher for refusing to use a student’s ‘preferred pronouns’. This is a clear case of someone being punished for failing to profess a doctrine, for refusing to embrace a faith. Agnosticism, it seems, is a sackable offence under the gender cult.

This is the case of Kevin Lister, a teacher at New College Swindon. This week Mr Lister lost his unfair dismissal case against the college. He was given the heave-ho in 2022 for ‘gross misconduct’. In the past, that might have meant whacking a student or turning up tipsy to class. In Lister’s case it involved little more than ‘refusing to refer to a biologically female student by their preferred male name and he / him pronouns’, as the BBC summed it up. So saying ‘she’ about a girl is gross misconduct now. Being scientifically accurate can land you on the dole.

Because he’s a non-believer in the trans faith – as are many of us – Lister was reluctant to refer to the girl as ‘he’ or by a male name. It seems it would have pained him, cut against his own morals, to give voice to this false belief, this faith-based idea that what was once a girl is now a boy. He tried not to offend the girl who thinks she’s a boy, for example by gesturing to her rather than using her birth name. But even this ‘gender-neutral communication style’ was ‘upsetting’ to the student. It seemed that only full prostration before the gender faith would have sufficed.

It was a genuflection Lister was unwilling to make. So he was punished. The student and a friend complained about his conduct and the college ruled he had indeed behaved in an ‘objectionable’ way. He had ‘violated the dignity’ of the trans student. He took the college to an employment tribunal, insisting he’d been unfairly sacked, but his case was dismissed this week. ‘I believe transgender ideology is a cult’, Lister told the tribunal, and you know what: the fact he was unforgivingly ousted for profaning against ‘preferred pronouns’ kind of makes his point.

The tribunal’s ruling feels disastrous for public life. One wonders how schools are meant to uphold scientific truth if teachers are forbidden from making scientifically accurate comments. What will become of biology teaching in an era when you can be exiled from the teaching profession for saying a girl is not a boy? Slavish validation of students’ ‘preferred’ genders is so obviously incompatible with the teacher’s noble task of imparting scientific knowledge to the next generation. At some point schools are going to have to make a choice: truth or lunacy?

Then there’s the ruling’s chipping away at adult authority, which was already in a parlous state. The ruling, if we’re honest, represents the victory of teenage delusion over adult understanding. It seriously corrodes pedagogic authority to punish a teacher for failing to validate a student’s fantasy gender. It puts the child in charge of the classroom, it gives dominion to their juvenile beliefs. I remember a time when schoolkids were reprimanded for wearing Dr Martens or mimicking Wham! haircuts. Yet now they can say ‘I have magically changed sex and you have no choice but to believe me’? It’s trans rights meets Lord of the Flies.

Worst of all, there’s that feeling of a forced conversion. Or an attempted forced conversion in the case of the heretical holdout, Mr Lister. People say using preferred pronouns is just about being polite. It isn’t. It’s a declaration of faith in a neo-religious idea. It’s an implicit acceptance of the faith-based notion that everyone has a ‘gendered soul’ and sometimes our physical body mismatches our soul. When people say ‘he’ about a ‘she’, they’re not being ‘nice’ – they’re swearing their fealty to this mystical idea, this religion of gendered souls.

This is why some people refuse to use ‘preferred pronouns’ – not because they’re mean but because they simply do not believe that a girl can have a boy soul, and vice versa. And they have the right not to believe that, just as we have the right not to believe that Muhammad split the Moon in two or that Mary gave birth to Jesus without benefit of intercourse. Pressuring people to believe in an inner gender, to obey pronoun preference, is no better than pressuring people to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah.

Gender ideology has clearly become the faith-based belief system of the new elites. Fidelity to this faith is essential if you want to get ahead in politics, culture, business and, it seems, education. True believers go all out, wearing Pride badges and declaring their pronouns at every opportunity. Such gauche displays of devotion are a signal to the in-group: ‘I’m one of you.’ Fail to do this, fail to convert to the religion of gendered souls, and it’s the out-group for you – as Mr Lister discovered.

Compelled belief is a terrible thing. That really is what we’re witnessing – the use of threats and slurs to force all to bend the knee to a post-truth ideology. Witness the hounding of JK Rowling for correctly calling India Willoughby a man or Labour’s flirtation with the idea that ‘misgendering’ should be a crime. No one should be ‘compelled by fire and sword to profess certain doctrines… to profess things that they do not believe’, said John Locke at the very start of the Enlightenment in 1689. Fast forward 350 years and such compulsion has returned not by fire and sword, but by threats of job loss and social exile. It’s time we reminded everyone that disbelief is a fundamental liberty in a free society.

Brendan O’Neill is spiked’s chief political writer and host of the spiked podcast, The Brendan O’Neill Show. Subscribe to the podcast here. His new book – A Heretic’s Manifesto: Essays on the Unsayable – is available to order on Amazon UK and Amazon US now. And find Brendan on Instagram: @burntoakboy

Picture by: Kevin Lister.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Free Speech Identity Politics UK


Want to join the conversation?

Only spiked supporters and patrons, who donate regularly to us, can comment on our articles.

Join today