Press pause on conversion therapy law

The Government is consulting on its proposal to introduce a new law banning “conversion therapy”. They are aiming to introduce a Bill to parliament in time to celebrate this as an achievement at their “Safe To Be Me: Global Equality Conference” in June 2022.

They are therefore undertaking a rushed six week consultation which closes on 10 December 2021. Sex Matters is concerned that the proposed legislation will do the opposite of making it “safe to be me”, particularly for the growing number of children experiencing gender dysphoria, and coming to believe they were “born in the wrong body”. The underlying research does not support the proposal.

Although the government says that it is important that a person experiencing gender dysphoria “is able to openly explore what works for them without feeling pressured into any particular outcome”, the legislation in practice would contribute to the climate of fear for professionals, organisations and parents who do not support an affirmation-only approach to gender identity. This will leave more young people facing one-way pressure to transition physically rather than being accepted as being gender non-conforming (and possibly same-sex attracted). It will thus promote a modern form of “conversion” and homophobia.

The proposed law is being promoted by Stonewall, Mermaids and other organisations that lost the public debate in their battle to reform the Gender Recognition Act to self-ID. Effectively this new law seeks to do the same thing; remove medical gatekeeping by making doctors afraid of disagreeing with a patient’s self-declared gender identity.

We have published a position paper which sets out 10 key concerns about the proposal

If you are concerned about the proposal we encourage you to write to your MP today – use our form to make it easy it only takes a couple of minutes.

We will also provide guidance soon on responding to the consultation.

What is in the proposal?

  1. Conversion aggravator to be applied to existing violent offences such as assault or rape, so that if  motivated by conversion they would attract a greater sentence from the court. 
  2. Statutory services to develop policies. The police and CPS (and presumably also social services) will be expected to develop policy frameworks.
  3. A new criminal offence of delivering “talking conversion therapy” covering any therapy undertaken with the intention of changing a person’s sexual orientation or changing them from being transgender or to being transgender if the person is either: 
    1. under 18
    2. someone who has been coerced  (defined as involving assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse).
    3. someone who lacks the capacity to consent

The offence will be punishable by up to 6 months’ imprisonment or a fine of up to an unlimited amount if tried by a magistrate, or up to 5 years if there is serious harm and the case is tried in the Crown Court.  A person found guilty could also have earnings confiscated and  be disqualified from working for a charity.

  1. Communications offences.  The government will consider amending the Communications Act 2003, Broadcasting Code and new Online Safety Bill to restrict promotion of conversion therapy. 
  2. Protection orders. A Conversion Therapy Protection Order could include requirements that no one or specific persons arranges for a person under 18 to undergo conversion therapy, removing a child’s passport or requiring that a person stay a certain distance away. These could be applied for by the individual, local authority or a teacher, a charity, a friend or a family member.
  3. Influencing the charity sector and education. The government plans both to “ensure charities don’t support conversion therapy” and commission support in the form of a helpline and online education resource for victims and professionals in safeguarding roles, such as teachers.

Our concerns

  1. There is no need for sweeping new legislation. Existing criminal law already outlaws abuse and physical harm, as well as child cruelty, neglect and violence.   This new law will be used to criminalise dissent with gender ideology. 
  2. Childhood transition is a controversial medical issue not a simple equality issue. The equality framework is the wrong vehicle to address complex questions of how to support children and vulnerable people experiencing gender dysphoria.
  3. The rush to legislate short-cuts the Cass Review which is looking at the evidence, and how best to support these children experiencing gender dysphoria.  
  4. The legislation would introduce “gender identity” as a legal concept and impose this on families. This legislation would usher in state-mandated compliance with gender identity ideology and criminalise, or threaten to remove children from parents who disagree. 
  5. The safeguards protecting legitimate therapists are not strong enough, relying on a child or other patient declaring that they are “questioning” rather than “trans” 
  6. The legislation would increase pressure on therapists and clinicians to agree to put children and young people on puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones. 
  7. The legislation is based on fear-mongering, not evidence. There is no evidence of prevalence of “conversion therapy” in the UK, or of harm in relation to gender identity. 
  8. The legislation risks strengthening the influence on public organisations by organisations that promote childhood transition and foster a culture of fear.
  9. The provisions against conversion talking therapy will be used to isolate “trans widows” and the children of transitioners from support. 
  10. The law would effectively remove medical gatekeeping from legal gender recognition, amounting to self-ID by the backdoor.

Take action: tell the government to press pause

We are calling on the government to press pause:

  1. Extend the consultation period. 6 weeks is not adequate time for people to understand the proposal and engage with the issue. It should be at least 12 weeks. 
  2. Revisit the research, which is not fit for purpose. In particular it conflates gay conversion therapy with the treatment of children and young people with gender identity issues. The two topics should be separated from the outset. 
  3. Wait for the outcomes of the Cass Review. Rushing through any legislation concerning the treatment of children and young people presenting with gender dysphoria before the outcome of the Cass Review is released would be irresponsible and counterproductive to evidence-based policy making.