“Conversion” therapy or just therapy?

On 23rd May 2022 an article appeared in the i news stating that Dr Az Hakeem was under investigation for attempting to “practise transgender conversion therapy”.

Dr Az Hakeem is a psychiatrist now in private practice after more than 15 years working in the NHS. He is Fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists and Honorary Associate Clinical Professor at University College London (UCL) Medical School. He is also gay.

Nancy Kelley, the CEO of Stonewall – the organisation leading the campaign to criminalise gender therapists like Dr Hakeem who take a cautious exploratory approach to therapy with people who want to transition – said: “This is why we need to #BanConversionTherapy”.

Sex Matters sent a summary briefing on the case to MPs on 23rd May, together with a letter and links to other resources, to highlight that Stonewall labels ordinary exploratory therapy as “conversion therapy”.

The article in the i news, in which Dr Hakeem is described as having deployed “coercive strategies”, tells the story of a young woman who suddenly identified as a man at the age of 17. Following an initial Zoom consultation, the patient complained that Dr Hakeem had raised doubts about their male identity and invited reflection on the long-term consequences of medical transition. Specifically, the article states that he:

  • did not restrict the session to the things the patient wanted to talk about
  • tried to explore the reasons for gender dysphoria “and would not accept that it’s because I’m trans”
  • asked the patient to consider whether these recent, intense feelings about gender might be part of a youth subculture, and might fade
  • asked the patient to consider potential negatives and drawbacks to transitioning and the possibility of future change of mind or regret
  • implied it was naïve to say there wouldn’t be “much of a problem” with future relationships.

Dr Hakeem ended the Zoom call after roughly 25 minutes, saying he could not take on the patient because of closed-mindedness.

Activists campaigning to criminalise forms of talk therapy condemned Dr Hakeem’s practice as “torture” and “abuse”. They also condemned the organisation Transgender Trend, which they said recommended him to the patient’s mother when she contacted them with her concerns.

The GMC has now confirmed the complaint is not being investigated. There is nothing in the description of Dr Hakeem’s practice that is abusive or currently against the law. But the “Ban” campaigners want to change this. They say “conversion therapy is torture and has no place in modern Britain”.

Dr Hakeem tweeted on 6th June:

I would like to correct some misinformation. I am NOT subject to a GMC investigation. Another gay person of colour being targeted by @stonewalluk @Nancy_M_K @PatrickStrud @theipaper

He has asked the newspaper and Stonewall for an apology.

The danger of poorly defined law

Recent guidance from the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel on creating new laws emphasises that a provision creating a criminal offence should have a precise statement of the prohibited behaviour:

“Exactly what behaviour do you plan to criminalise? This must be described with precision. Any uncertainty risks injustice and would be likely to be resolved by a court in favour of a defendant.”

Nothing like this exists for what the “Ban” campaign wants to criminalise.

As Nikki da Costa, former director of legislative affairs at 10 Downing Street, highlights, a new criminal law based on a weak evidence base and unclear definition is a recipe for trial by media.


The result of poorly developed legislation would be a situation where careful clinicians like Dr Hakeem become too fearful to work with gender-distressed or gender-confused children, and only those committed to gender ideology remain in the field. We believe that this is precisely the outcome the “Ban” campaigners are seeking.

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