At the end of last year I wrote an article that surveyed the gender wars: the battlefield of lost jobs, workplace bullying, employment tribunals, police visits, arrests and wrongful convictions, to win the right to talk plainly about the two sexes.
I pointed to the new battle over proposed legislation to “ban conversion therapy”, which threatens to close this down this freedom of plain speaking where it matters most — amongst those caring for children and young people who have suddenly come to believe they are “the wrong sex”.
The article appears to have hit a nerve with the Government Equalities Office: they wrote to the Critic with corrections and asked it to “dispel some of the myths”.
GEO says: “This policy is not rushed. It was first announced in 2018 and has been debated on multiple occasions in parliament”
In fact: Hansard shows there has been no real debate in Parliament on the government’s plan to outlaw conversion therapy, and none at all on inclusion of “transgender conversion”. The government’s own published research has found no evidence that the abhorrent practice exists.
When the plan to “end conversion therapy” was announced in 2018, there was no mention or discussion in parliament of “trans children” being the focus. The Queen’s Speech only said, “Measures will be brought forward to address racial and ethnic disparities and ban conversion therapy.”
MPs responded to the announcement by welcoming this as a plan to ban “gay conversion therapy” — although most of what they talked about were historic abuses that are already illegal.
He even complained that a piece of maternity leave legislation had included the word “mother”
Hansard shows Hannah Bardell MP welcoming “the plans to ban gay conversion therapy”. Ben Bradshaw MP followed up with “I warmly welcome the right hon. Lady’s announcements today. I thank her for the announcement on gay conversion therapy”. Chris Elmore MP said, “The Minister’s announcement today on the banning of so-called gay conversion therapies is obviously enormously welcome.” He asked several questions including how she would “ensure that such disgusting treatments do not go underground?” and asked whether the government was making representations to other countries that “there is no need for a cure for being gay?” Dan Carden MP also asked questions and highlighted a report about “gay cure therapies” in Liverpool. The minister Penny Mordaunt responded to these sets of questions without indicating the plan addressed anything other than issues related to sexual orientation.
The only time the idea of including gender identity was discussed in parliament, it was not as a government proposal. On 8 March 2021 following a public petition there was a Westminster Hall debate attended by around twenty MPs. While all the specific examples of abhorrent practices discussed related to gay conversion therapy, several MPs raised gender identity. Crispin Blunt MP said “the law must include trans people” because reform of the Gender Recognition Act 2004 had “been abandoned”. He gave no examples of abhorrent practices but complained that groups such as Conservative Women’s Pledge and LGB Alliance, “whose purpose seems to be to protect cisgender women from trans women”, were able to talk to ministers. He even complained that a piece of maternity leave legislation had included the word “mother”. Labour MP Mike Hill cited Stonewall saying that “one in five trans people had at some time been subject to or recommended for therapies that question their very identity”. Plaid Cymru MP Hywel Williams also talked about banning conversion therapy in relation to gender identity alongside legal gender self-ID, and misquoted the 19th century poet Cranogwen to turn her into a trans rights activist.
There was no debate about whether it is really sensible that people seeking to undergo a major social and medical intervention, based on their identity, should not have therapy that “questions their identity”. What most people, parents and doctors would understand as ordinary medical prudence was being rebranded as something akin to abhorrent, historic practices of gay conversion therapy.
Government Ministers responded in general terms about “conversion therapy”, saying that the government had commissioned research into the scope of practices and the experiences of those affected. There were questions in the house on progress in June 2020, March 2021, May 2021 and July 2021. Each time the government responded in general terms and pointed to forthcoming research.
When the research was finally published in November 2021, it had found no evidence in relation to “gender identity conversion” in the UK.
But the government, faced with demands from a campaign led by Stonewall, is pushing ahead with a plan to ban “conversion” of “transgender children”.
GEO says: “It is incorrect that the Government’s plan is to put the term ‘gender identity’ into law. The Government has no plans whatsoever to do so”
In fact: It is true that the government has not (at least in the consultation document) used the term “gender identity” to define what it means by “being transgender” — but that is because it has not defined what it means by “being transgender” at all.
What I argued was that the concept of “gender identity”, which Professor Kathleen Stock has called ill-conceived both intrinsically and “as a potential object of law or policy”, would be put into law.
The idea of gender identity certainly informs the proposed legislation. GEO’s report of the survey, where it first asked people about “LGBT conversion”, defines conversion therapy as “interventions aimed at changing someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity”. Their research report to support the legislation is called: “An assessment of the evidence on conversion therapy for sexual orientation and gender identity”.
The research that the GEO commissioned from Coventry University underpins the definition of transgender with gender identity. It is “an umbrella term used to describe people who have a gender identity that is different to the sex recorded at birth”. (People who are not transgender, it says, have a gender identity that matches their sex assigned at birth and are thus “cisgender”.)
The consultation document dodges definition by saying that professional bodies “are best placed to set out professional obligations and identify practices that are harmful for the individual involved”. The key document here is the “Memorandum of Understanding on Conversion Therapy” (MoU), which has been signed up to by all the main therapeutic bodies in the UK (without debate). The MOU defines “conversion therapy” as an umbrella term for:
“a therapeutic approach, or any model or individual viewpoint that demonstrates an assumption that any sexual orientation or gender identity is inherently preferable to any other, and which attempts to bring about a change of sexual orientation or gender identity, or seeks to suppress an individual’s expression of sexual orientation or gender identity on that basis”.
GEO says: “Nick Herbert does not want to criminalise parents, teachers and therapists who tell children they are not born in the wrong body”
In fact: The idea of children being “born in the wrong body” (i.e. with an innate sense of gender identity which differs from their physical sex) is fundamental to the idea of “trans children”.
If there is no child “born in the wrong body”, then children who identify as transgender are suffering from a feeling of gender dysphoria. That is something that can have a range of causes (exploration of self, response to restrictive gender expectations, abuse, homophobia, social contagion). The feeling may well resolve with time, especially during puberty, or with therapy.
Many children with gender dysphoria will grow out of it
The proposed legislation will instead label this a “trans child” (based on their own declaration) and make it illegal to help them resolve their gender dysphoria in other ways. When a teenager declares herself or himself to be “trans”, then a therapist will be forced to enable her or him to access hormonal and surgical treatments that are likely to lead to sterilization and lifelong medical treatment. It will be illegal for the therapist to help the teenager become reconciled with their sexed body.
Many children with gender dysphoria, who may be adamant they are transgender, will grow out of it. It makes no sense to talk of converting a child from “being transgender” to “not being transgender”. What you have is a child growing up, who may need support.
This proposal threatens to make offering such support a risky proposal that could jeopardize your livelihood and freedom.
GEO says: “It is incorrect that the CT ban is proposed to be a perception-based crime. The word ‘perception’ does not appear once in the 10,000 word consultation paper”
In fact: Without a definition of transgender, it is hard to see how it might identify a victim or a perpetrator without relying on a child’s perception that they are transgender.
Given that transgender is not defined, any repeated act of teaching, coaching, mentoring, pastoral support, therapy or peer group support that does not affirm a child’s declared transgender identity would leave people open to accusations and investigation. For example:
- If a parent, teacher, therapist, coach, etc., does not recognise a child’s self-diagnosis that they are “transgender” but treats them as their actual sex for an extended period, is that conversion therapy?
- If a therapist thinks there may be other reasons for a child’s distress than gender identity, and explores these other reasons while not affirming that the child is “transgender”, is that conversion therapy?
- Is continuing to call a child by their given name, referring to them by sex based pronouns and words that relate to their sex such as “boy” or “girl”, even though the child says they are transgender, conversion therapy?
- Is a school that only allows a child access to sports, changing rooms and toilets appropriate to their sex, practising conversion therapy?
Certainly the most enthusiastic cheer-leaders for this legislation seem to believe it would work this way. As Crispin Blunt MP said in the Westminster Hall Debate:
“Our common law system enables the drafting challenge of defining conversion therapy to be met. There is no need to overcomplicate this issue. The police, prosecutors and jurors will know conversion therapy when they see it. Most critically, the victims will know it too, and they will have been equipped with a defence mechanism.”
Even if there are few convictions, investigations and trials for vaguely defined offenses are punishing in themselves.
Parents could be accused of “conversion” of their own child for not affirming them
The government’s failure to define “transgender” within the 10,000 words of the consultation suggests it is unwittingly building a trap for itself. If the government, or any public or professional body, defines transgender in a way that means that some people who believe themselves to be transgender do not meet the definition, then this in itself can render anyone following its definition liable to accusations of “conversion therapy”. After all, they will be trying to change someone from being transgender to not being transgender, by applying an external definition.
GEO says: “The Government is not going to threaten parents with losing their children”
In fact: If denying a child’s self-declared transgender identity becomes a criminal act, this will ineluctably lead to parents being threatened with losing their children.
It is already proposed that the legislation should include protection orders to allow a local authority to stop a child being taken abroad for conversion therapy. If not affirming a child’s gender identity becomes a criminal act, then social services surely must intervene with the family.
Where estranged parents are in dispute over child custody, and one parent believes in transitioning a child and the other doesn’t, the criminalisation of a failure to affirm transgender identity will short-circuit discussions around whom it would be in the child’s best interests to live with.
“Conversion therapy” is proposed to be a summary offence for which a magistrate can sentence someone to 6 months imprisonment. Parents could be accused of “conversion” of their own child for not affirming them. Imprisonment of a father or mother entails the forcible separation of a child from its parents. When mothers are imprisoned, research shows only 5 per cent of children stay in the family home. A parent trying to regain custody of their child after being found guilty of the crime of “conversion” is likely to be assessed as to whether they will re-offend.
These scenarios might seem extreme, if it were not for the fact that in Canada a father has already been imprisoned in a battle over whether his daughter is his son.
GEO says: “The Government’s proposals do not specifically target people whose job it is to safeguard children and we have made clear that the existing clinical framework is not going to change”
In fact: Anyone delivering services that could be captured under the definition of “talking therapies” to a child has responsibilities to safeguard those children.
Safeguarding means protecting a citizen’s health, wellbeing and human rights, and enabling them to live free from harm, abuse and neglect. All staff and volunteers who work with children or vulnerable people in education, healthcare, community work, youth work or other settings are likely to have safeguarding training, and should have a structure into which they can report concerns.
This legislation politicises that structure to promote gender ideology. Children will be able to self identify as the opposite sex, and those who question that or advocate treating them as their natal sex will likely be considered a safeguarding risk and legal liability.
Furthermore, safeguarding concerns related to the transgender identity of a “trans child”, or about those people encouraging a child to feel unhappy about their body, can be dismissed as being motivated by “conversion therapy”.
GEO Says: “The Government is not going to ask Stonewall to produce the necessary statutory guidance”
In fact: This is an extraordinary denial of something I did not claim.
What I said was this:
“Don’t worry, say the government and the organisations that have been promoting the persecution of people like Harry Miller, Alison Bailey, Kathleen Stock, myself and so many others for speaking up. There will be safeguards, guidance and training (by Stonewall!).”
We have already seen how Stonewall and associated organisations have influenced government departments, regulators and police forces on implementation of equality law without needing to explicitly provide statutory guidance: by training civil servants and professionals, influencing HR policies, and rewarding compliance with ranking in a league table.
In this case, the government is already following Stonewall’s direction by including gender identity in the legislation at all: it is unsupported by independent research, and it has not been clearly defined by civil servants or debated in parliament.
Trans activist lobbying groups such as Stonewall and Gendered Intelligence do not need to be invited in to write the statutory guidance. They are already there, setting the agenda including through their involvement in shaping the “Memorandum of Understanding on Conversion Therapy”, which is a precursor of this legislation.
It is not at all clear that the Government department tasked with promoting equality should involve criminal law with difficult questions about how best to support children with gender dysphoria.
If this legislation is to be considered, it needs to be clearly conceptualised and explained, with the foreseeable risks explored and not just denied.
It needs pre-legislative scrutiny involving a joint committee of both houses. If it cannot survive careful consideration by lawmakers, it should be scrapped.