County Hall has launched an investigation into Norfolk's main library after staff organised a trans art exhibition which critics say promoted "body mutilation".

Kay Mason Billig, leader of Norfolk County Council, intervened personally after she became aware of the event, at Norwich's Millennium Library, issuing an apology and ordering it be stopped.

The exhibition in the Forum, held to mark Transgender Day of Visibility, included pictures of hypodermic needles for injecting testosterone and sculptures and images of bodies which have had gender-reassignment surgery.

Eastern Daily Press: One of the pieces of artwork on displayOne of the pieces of artwork on display (Image: Norwich Women's Rights Group)Women's groups criticised the displays, which they say promote the use of surgery and medication among young people with gender issues.

The row comes just after the publication of the long-awaited Cass Review, which raised huge concerns over the way that the NHS has handled young people who question their gender.

The report found there was "remarkably weak evidence" to support gender treatment for children.

Yet it highlighted how health experts had put many of them on a medical pathway of puberty-blocking drugs and hormones, despite risks of harm in relation to brain development, fertility, bone density, mental health and adult sexual functioning.

The Norwich event led to a backlash on social media with many critics citing the Cass Review, prompting Mrs Mason Billig to personally post on Mumsnet to apologise.

Eastern Daily Press: The display contained pieces by local artistsThe display contained pieces by local artists (Image: Norfolk County Council)WHAT WAS THE EXHIBITION?

The exhibition was organised by Norwich Trans Pride, a collective of transgender activists, and featured a range of pieces by local artists.

The group did not respond when contacted by this newspaper.

Their artwork included slogans like 'trans joy' and 'my garden, my choice'.

The display also depicted a person with mastectomy scars, as a result of gender reassignment surgery, a ceramic nude figure and a hypodermic needle for injecting testosterone.

Eastern Daily Press: More artwork on displayMore artwork on display (Image: Norfolk County Council)It was intended to mark Transgender Day of Visibility which is organised by activists to raise awareness of trans issues.

The day itself, March 31, fell on Easter Sunday this year and the artwork was displayed from March 28 until April 11.

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Critics took to Mumsnet on April 12 to express their outrage at the exhibition, which they called a "horror show".

One user said: "This display is apparently aimed at children and young people, which in my honest opinion promotes body mutilation and self harm and glorifies drug use. In the wake of the Cass report it's incredibly irresponsible.

"The display is accessible to children as the cabinets stand only a couple of feet high. The cases are by the entrance - not noticeable when you go in but inescapable when you leave.

"I can’t believe someone authorised this."

Norwich Women's Rights Group has also spoken out about the exhibition and submitted a formal complaint to the council.

Sarah Walker, a member of the group, said: "If a library was promoting anorexia or cutting or glorifying steroid abuse to children and teenagers, we’d all see it for what it is. Instead, it’s promoting self-mutilation under the banner of trans joy.

"It’s especially irresponsible in the week that the Cass Review revealed how poor the evidence base for so-called 'gender affirming care' is and how little follow-up there has been to assess regret and de-transition rates."

Nathalie Kail, a local mother, added: "The library is no longer safe for families if as soon as you enter you have a cabinet display glorifying trans ideology."

Another commenter wrote:  "The exhibition contains explicit content which is targeted blatantly at children, at a place where they go to read, learn, and develop a love of books - and not swallow harmful propaganda."


Eastern Daily Press: Kay Mason Billig, leader of Norfolk County CouncilKay Mason Billig, leader of Norfolk County Council (Image: Norfolk County Council)

In a highly unusual move, Mrs Mason Billig posted on Mumsnet.

She wrote: "I was very unhappy when I heard about this display. Staff have guidelines, and this exhibition seems to have been approved without realising the actual content.

"As soon as it came to my attention, I alerted senior staff and it was removed immediately. I apologise if anyone was offended but thank you very much for alerting us. 

"We are open to different points of view on all subjects but there are times and places for these and we have to handle them with sensitivity and consider the impact on others, especially children.

"There will be an investigation into how and why this happened and staff will be issued with strengthened guidance for the future."

Eastern Daily Press: The exhibition took place at the Forum in NorwichThe exhibition took place at the Forum in Norwich (Image: Newsquest)Mrs Mason Billig said she was alerted to the exhibition on April 12 and passed her concerns on to staff, asking to confirm that it was no longer in place.

She said she would continue to deal with any complaints relating to the display directly and encouraged people to email her, adding that she would ensure council officials saw the messages and would respond to them.

She added: "It is always difficult when you are in my position to decide how to quickly answer what was an obvious and real cause for concern, so I wanted to reach out to those who had posted to assure them that we would take this seriously and deal with it as soon as possible. 

"We will look closely at the guidance that is issued to our staff, to ensure they have the support and information to make the correct decisions on what is appropriate, and to prevent this from happening in the future."

The council press office has declined to comment.

Eastern Daily Press: One of the pieces of artworkOne of the pieces of artwork (Image: Norwich Women's Rights Group)WHAT IS THE CASS REVIEW?

The long-awaited Cass Review into children's gender services in the NHS found that children had been let down by a lack of research and evidence on the use of puberty blockers and hormones.

The independent review was carried out by Dr Hilary Cass, and was commissioned by NHS England and NHS Improvement in 2020 following a rise in the number of youngsters seeking help for issues with their gender.

The 388-page document was finally published on April 10.

Among its findings was that some health practitioners had "abandoned normal clinical approaches to holistic assessment" when it came to gender cases.

It added that while doctors tended to be cautious in implementing new findings in emerging areas of medicine, “quite the reverse happened in the field of gender care for children”, leading to the prescribing of puberty blockers on weak evidence and despite significant risks.

While there was "no clear evidence" that social transition – such as changing names and pronouns – in childhood has any positive or negative mental health outcomes, the review said a "more cautious approach" should be taken for young children struggling with their gender identity.

Dr Cass said: "I think it’s definitely the case that ideology on all sides has directed care, rather than care being directed by normal principles of paediatrics and mental health.

"I mean, certainly professionals are afraid to do the things that they would normally do in any other consultation with a young person, and that can’t be right."