Sex Matters supporters have been speaking to their MPs about the proposed legislation on conversion therapy. Their reports from face-to-face and telephone meetings highlight the need for a proper review of the proposals.
Supporters who have managed to speak to their MPs tell us that some have been surprised to discover the reach of the plans, and were often unaware that the scope had been widened to include “gender identity”. Others have repeated the government’s talking points.
It’s not too late to speak to your MP. Email them today.
What to say to your MP
- Speak from the heart: tell them why you are concerned; as a parent, teacher, healthcare professional, as an aunt or uncle, or because of your own personal life experience.
- It would be helpful to print out and give them a copy of the EHRC’s response to the consultation, or email it to them. Tell them that the Equality and Human Rights Commission is concerned about lack of evidence and clear definitions and is calling for parliamentary scrutiny.
- Answer their questions. The government, in response to initial concerns, has issued reassurances that do not add up.
Answering the government’s talking points
Your MP might say some of these things. You can think about your answers in advance to explain why we are not reassured.
The government is not planning to put the term ‘gender identity’ into law
This law would criminalise trying to change a child “from being transgender”. This reflects the idea that a child that identifies as transgender at any age is “born this way” – it is based on the idea of innate gender identity.
Whether they put the idea of “transgender child” or “gender identity” into words in the law it is the same thing.
They are also likely to rely on the Memorandum of understanding on conversion therapy signed by major therapy organisations after an activist push to add “gender identity” alongside sexual orientation. Many therapists are concerned about this.
The policy will not criminalise legitimate therapy for children questioning their gender identity
The consultation says that the law will allow for therapy of children who are “questioning” their gender identity. Many children say that they are not “questioning” but that they are adamant that they are the opposite sex.
They can quickly become fixated on the idea of socially transitioning, getting puberty blockers and hormones as the solution to mental distress. They are already being coached online on what to say to therapists, and to use self-harm and suicide threats.
If a child does not identify as “questioning”, or changes their mind about whether they are questioning, they could report a therapist or school counsellor to the police.
This threat is likely to make therapists and counsellors less willing to work with children having gender identity issues.
The policy will only criminalise “abusive” conversion therapy
The government’s own research (commissioned from Coventry University) found no evidence of abusive conversion therapy in the UK. Without a definition, accusations are likely to be indiscriminate (as they are for “transphobia”).
Looking at the consultation, it appears that 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 or similar does not recognise a child’s self-diagnosis that they are “transgender” but treats them as their actual sex for an extended period.
- 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”.
- If a school does not allow a child access to sports, changing rooms and toilets for the opposite sex and refuses to treat them as if they really are the opposite sex.
The Government is not going to threaten parents with losing their children
If denying a child’s self-declared transgender identity becomes a criminal act, this will lead to parents being threatened with losing their children. This could be through social services action or where parents are in dispute over child custody, or in the worst case if a parent is prosecuted and sent to prison.
The legislation will encourage schools to view parents as unsupportive (and potentially criminal) if they do not support children’s transgender identity. It will deter schools from working together with parents, if a child says “My parents don’t support my identity, if you tell them they will do conversion therapy on me.”
This policy has not been rushed – it was first announced in 2018
When the policy was first announced in 2018, the Queen’s Speech only said “ban conversion therapy” and the responses in parliament indicate that MPs understood this to be about “gay conversion therapy”.
The decision to add gender identity came late in 2021 and is not supported by any research. The idea of stopping “gay conversion” is quite different from creating criminal penalties for disagreeing with a child’s gender identity.
This has not been debated in Parliament. There should be pre-legislative scrutiny, and any legislation in relation to transitioning children should wait for the Cass Review.
Sex Matters is encouraged by the news that MPs are seeking further information about the proposals and speaking to each other. Our supporters have left meetings “feeling quite hopeful” about the effectiveness of speaking directly to their representatives.
“I didn’t feel as though I was getting the brush off which was what I was initially worried about. Thanks for making me appreciate that I can actually DO something!”
It’s not too late – speak to your MP today!