In our guide to responding to the government Conversion Therapy consultation we have highlighted the main important points to make for each section. We suggest that you put these points into your own words where possible, and elaborate on them with your own examples. You may want to specify in what capacity you are responding, eg. ‘as a parent’ or ‘as a teacher’ and then go on to state what your concerns are.
We focus on the issue of so-called ‘transgender conversion therapy’ in regard to the protection and safeguarding of children and young people. We have highlighted problems with the current wording of the Conversion Therapy consultation report and suggested changes/additions necessary for the achievement of the government’s stated goals below:
“It is also vitally important that no person is forced or coerced into conversion therapy, and that young people are supported in exploring their identity without being encouraged towards one particular path. This is especially the case for those who are under 18 and where this might result in an irreversible decision.” (Ministerial Foreword)
“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 government is determined to ensure that no person is put on a clinical pathway that is not right for them, and that young people are supported in exploring their identity without being encouraged towards one particular path. Forcing or coercing a person into this position would be considered conversion therapy.” (Introduction)
[Highlights our own]
Note: it is sometimes difficult to know which ‘agree’ or ‘disagree’ option to choose, depending on whether the proposal relates to gay conversion therapy or transgender conversion therapy, and dependent on the definition of ‘conversion therapy.’ We have therefore mostly chosen the ‘somewhat’ agree or disagree option.
You do not have to answer all the questions. If you do not have the time to give detailed responses, just one or two sentences will do. The important thing is to respond: the more people raise concerns the more likelihood that the proposed bill will be delayed to give time for proper scrutiny.
Go to the online consultation here (opens in a new tab)
New Extended Deadline: February 4th 2022
Do you agree or disagree that the government should intervene to end conversion therapy in principle?
This is where you can outline your general concerns about the addition of ‘transgender’ to a bill on gay conversion therapy. You may want to start with the positive, for example:
“I welcome the government’s commitment to strengthening protections for children and young people from making irreversible decisions and from being encouraged towards one particular path. However, I have some concerns about the wording of the consultation…”
- Overall, the draft consultation is muddled and open to interpretation. Although it states that an attempt made to change a person “from not being transgender to being transgender, will be treated in the same way as the reverse scenario” the draft wording is weighted towards changing a child from ‘being transgender.’
- There is a danger the bill will be used to reinforce an activist agenda which frames anything other than ‘affirmation’ of transgender identity in children and young people as ‘conversion therapy.’
- The results of the ‘affirmation’ approach are clear from the huge spike in the number of children presenting to gender clinics over the past decade and the corresponding increase in the number of young adults who regret undergoing irreversible medical transition.
- Labelling children and young people ‘transgender’ is an ideological approach towards children with gender dysphoria. Children experiencing psychological distress is a clinical matter, not a political rights issue.
- Affirmation of transgender identity precludes proper investigation into factors underlying the gender dysphoria, such as mental health problems, bullying, autism, previous trauma or sexual abuse, struggles with sexual orientation, family background of abuse or neglect, or the difficulties of being a female adolescent.
- Affirmation that a child is the opposite sex is self-ID by the back door for the most vulnerable children, who are entitled to proper therapeutic care.
- There is no evidence of ‘transgender conversion therapy’ occurring anywhere in the UK. Most professional bodies like the NHS and UKCP have already signed the Memorandum of Understanding on Conversion Therapy [MoU], a set of semi-legal regulations for professional therapists which prevents their members offering conversion therapy for ‘sexual orientation and gender identity.’
- There is a lack of scientific or evidential basis that there is a pressing social need to justify a legislative ban for conversion therapy of ‘transgender’ identity.
- There is a pattern of conversion therapy bans being rushed through in other jurisdictions with no evidence of need. See legal opinion here:
- This is an opportunity for the UK government to take time to get it right.
Conflation of LGB and T
- The conflation of LGB and T confuses two very different issues.
- Sexual orientation is a recognised and defined material fact of human sexuality, protected by law. ‘Transgender’ is based on the idea of ‘gender identity’, a subjective belief unsupported by scientific evidence, which is not referenced or defined in the Equality Act.
- As a belief, ‘gender identity’ should not be added to the statute.
- The concept of the ‘transgender child’ should not be written into law. ‘Transgender’ has no scientific, biological, legal or clinical definition. The term can mean anything from part-time cross-dressers to people who don’t comply with traditional gender roles (according to Gendered Intelligence); it is an unverifiable and subjective self-definition.
- There is lack of a clear definition of what constitutes ‘conversion therapy’ and lack of acknowledgment that ‘gay conversion therapy’ and ‘transgender conversion therapy’ may be in conflict.
- ‘Affirmation’ of a transgender (opposite sex) identity could constitute ‘conversion therapy’ of a person’s sexual orientation, particularly for children and young people whose identities are still developing.
- Sexual orientation requires no surgery or drugs. Being gay, lesbian or bi is simply a state of being.
- ‘Transgender’ is treated through physical intervention in the form of hormone treatment and the surgical removal of healthy body parts, with irreversible lifelong serious consequences, such as sterility and loss of sexual function. A ‘transgender’ identity in children and young people is not fixed, as evidenced by the number of children who naturally desist (around 80%) and the increasing number of detransitioners speaking out.
- The effect of a legislative ban on transgender conversion therapy is likely to have the opposite effect of that intended, by putting gay and lesbian youth at increased risk of gay conversion therapy through ‘transition.’ Most children and young people expressing a trans identity are likely to be gay or lesbian as adults if they are left alone or given neutral exploratory therapy.
- The Conversion Therapy consultation guidance stresses the goal of preventing children ‘being put on a clinical pathway that is not right for them’ but the current wording of the proposals will be likely to increase the risk.
- The addition of ‘gender identity’ to the MoU has had a chilling effect on therapists and counsellors who increasingly will not work with gender dysphoric children for fear of being accused of conversion therapy if they do not unquestioningly ‘affirm’ a child as the opposite sex. Adding criminal sanctions will make this situation even worse.
- There is a danger that a lack of belief in ‘gender identity’ (so-called ‘gender critical’ belief) and freedom of expression of that belief will be potentially criminalised unless exemptions are specified very clearly in the proposed bill.
- The bill can protect all L,G,B and T adults by providing a clear, specific definition of conversion therapy as intentional and sustained attempts to change a person’s sexual orientation or transgender identity through using shame, humiliation, bullying, coercion or other manipulative techniques. It must be specified that recognising a person’s SEX is unrelated to the issue of ‘conversion therapy.’
- The bill can protect children and young people from unnecessary medical intervention by clearly specifying what is NOT ‘conversion therapy’ in the treatment of children with gender dysphoria and by explicitly stating that ‘affirmation’ of a transgender identity is a method of ‘encouraging children towards one particular path.’
- The bill must make a distinction between ‘transgender people’ and children with gender dysphoria. Clinical pathways for children must be evidence-based.
- The bill must protect everyone’s freedom of belief and expression by specifying unequivocally that free expression of beliefs consistent with biology and the Equality Act definitions of ‘sex’ and ‘sexual orientation’ is NOT a form of ‘transgender conversion therapy.’ Women and girls must retain the right to recognise and name a male person as a man for reasons of privacy, safety and protection of their fundamental rights. A bill that is open to interpretation on this point will create even more of a chilling effect on women who are already experiencing bullying and silencing for speaking to uphold their rights.
Question 1. To what extent do you support, or not support, the government’s proposal for addressing physical acts of conversion therapy? Why do you think this?
Somewhat not Support
- Physical acts of violence are already criminalised. The addition of an ‘aggravating factor’ of conversion therapy in sentencing may be hard to prove.
- Many young detransitioners equate what happened to them as a “physical act of conversion therapy.” They describe the irreversible effects of hormones and surgery as a form of physical attack on their bodies.
Question 2. The government considers that delivering talking conversion therapy with the intention of changing a person’s sexual orientation or changing them from being transgender or to being transgender either to someone who is under 18, or to someone who is 18 or over and who has not consented or lacks the capacity to do so should be considered a criminal offence. The consultation document describes proposals to introduce new criminal law that will capture this. How far do you agree or disagree with this?
This is the most important section of the bill for the protection of parents, therapists, clinicians and other professionals working with children and young people and consequently for the protection of children themselves.
The government consultation document states:
“Banning conversion therapy must not result in interference for professional psychologists, psychiatrists, psychotherapists, counsellors and other clinicians and healthcare staff providing legitimate support for those who may be questioning if they are LGBT. The ban will complement the existing clinical regulatory framework…”
- The wording is similar to the MoU which has already had a chilling effect on therapists. The threat of criminal sanction will make this worse. Most children and young people presenting to clinics are not questioning but one hundred per cent certain that they are ‘trans.’ Keira Bell is typical of many detransitioners who were convinced they were transgender but come to regret medical intervention which will affect them for life. Protection and safeguarding of vulnerable young people must be the priority in a government ban on conversion therapy and this needs to be explicit.
- The addition of ‘gender identity’ to the MoU was driven by activists. Government legislation should not be.
- Gender dysphoria is a rare medical condition that historically affects pre-pubescent boys and adult males. Removing gender dysphoria from the discussion of conversion therapy for under 18s masks a new, unprecedented phenomenon, teenage girls who express a belief that they are boys. This group should still be treated according to the established approach of ‘watchful waiting’ including exploratory therapy. There is no evidence that this approach caused harm to children. Historically, for most pre-pubescent ‘feminine’ boys the gender dysphoria typically resolved naturally, and a majority grew up to be gay as adults.
- As a new and experimental approach, there is little research on affirmation and social transition, but a study in 2013 by one of the most respected researchers in this area, Dr Thomas Steensma, found that it was the highest predictor of persistence of gender dysphoria in children. Increased persistence leads to a greater likelihood of medical intervention, and once on puberty blockers evidence shows that almost 100% of children progress to cross-sex hormones.
- The government bill must provide specific protections for parents. A parent who does not believe in ‘gender identity’ may support their child’s self-expression while not ‘affirming’ them as the opposite sex, or may tell them unequivocally that ‘gender identity’ theory is a load of nonsense. The government must ensure that any legislation does not interfere with parents’ rights to be honest with their child about the reality and immutability of biological sex.
Question 3. How far do you agree or disagree with the penalties being proposed?
Risks of criminalisation.
- If government legislation follows the dictates of the MoU, clinicians working with children with gender dysphoria risk being criminalised for exercising their normal duty of care.
- Without a clear working definition of the terms ‘gender identity’ and ‘transgender’ and a specific definition of what constitutes ‘talking conversion therapy’ and what does not, legislation risks criminalising therapists, social workers, teachers, youth workers and parents for acting in the best interests of individual children.
- Clinicians at the Tavistock clinic have expressed concern that some parents have ‘affirmed’ their child as ‘transgender’ for clearly homophobic reasons.
- Children need protection from being affirmed as having the ‘wrong body’ or being born the ‘wrong sex’ by adults with a homophobic ‘conversion’ motive.
- Meanwhile, it is the parents who do not ‘affirm’ their child as ‘transgender’, ie. affirm their daughter as their son or vice versa, who are already being reported to social services, even though their motive may be to protect their child from ‘conversion’ from gay to straight.
Question 4. Do you think that these proposals miss anything? If yes, can you tell us what you think we have missed?
- Recognition of a growing consensus that affirmation of a child as ‘transgender’ is a new form of gay conversion therapy.
- The opportunity to strengthen protection from irreversible medical intervention for children unless ‘affirmation’ is explicitly included as an example of ‘encouraging a child towards one path’ and exemptions are clearly specified.
- Consideration that belief in a ‘transgender child’ is built on a belief in innate gender identity. Without this belief, a child is simply a ‘child with gender dysphoria’ who may be helped through explorative therapy to understand themselves better and possibly resolve the dysphoria.
- Any reference to the controversy surrounding medical ‘transition’ of children and the well-documented problems at the Tavistock clinic. The Cass Review has not been taken into account in the timing of this consultation.
- The testimonies of detransitioners, without which any research and evidence of ‘conversion therapy’ is incomplete and inaccurate.
- Proper consultation with women’s rights and LGB groups on legislation that may affect their rights.
- It is vital that the government wait for the recommendations of the Cass Review before implementing any legislation affecting the treatment of children and young people.
- The bill must explicitly exempt neutral therapeutic treatment of children and young people with gender dysphoria, such as ‘watchful waiting’, explorative therapy and developmentally appropriate therapy/family therapy, whether the child is ‘questioning’ or certain of their transgender identity.
- The bill must specifically protect parents’ rights to choose such treatments for their child.
- The bill must specifically protect the rights of ‘trans widows’ NOT to agree their husband is now a woman and that she is now a lesbian.
Question 5. The government considers that Ofcom’s Broadcasting Code already provides measures against the broadcast and promotion of conversion therapy. How far do you agree or disagree with this? Why do you think this?
- It depends on how ‘conversion therapy’ is defined. If a regulator was trained by Stonewall then bias is built in. The BBC’s own style guide could have been lifted straight from Stonewall in its conflation of sex and ‘gender’ and the resulting mis-definitions of, for example, sexual orientation which is defined not by the lawful definition but as being attracted to ‘people of the same gender.’
- Regulators and broadcasters should not be trained by lobby groups with a specific agenda. Broadcasters have a duty to recognise their unique responsibility and power to influence children’s beliefs.
Question 6. Do you know of any examples of broadcasting that you consider to be endorsing or promoting conversion therapy? If yes, can you tell us what these examples are?
- Any output aimed at impressionable children that promotes gender identity ideology as if it were fact. Although the evidence shows that the vast majority of children with gender dysphoria will grow up to be gay, the BBC has consistently promoted the idea that these children are ‘transgender,’ ie that boys who enjoy playing with dolls are really girls, in programming to very young children. BBC educational resources for children and young people are likewise written from a belief in ‘gender identity’ and presented as if this were fact.
- Examples include: 100 genders (BBC Teach), I am Leo (CBBC), Just a Girl (CBBC), First Day (CBBC), Butterfly (ITV).
Question 7. The government considers that the existing codes set out by the Advertising Standards Authority and the Committee of Advertising Practice already prohibits the advertisement of conversion therapy. How far do you agree or disagree with this?
- As above. Adverts directed at children and young people should be subject to strict safeguarding codes which should include a ban on advertisements that normalise and glamorise childhood transition.
- For example, Lush is currently promoting ‘chest binders’ for girls who want to disguise the fact they are girls. Compressing breast tissue leads to problems including chest & shoulder pains, shortness of breath, dizziness, respiratory infections and fractured ribs.
Question 8. Do you know of any examples of advertisements that you consider to be endorsing or promoting conversion therapy? If yes, can you tell us what these examples are?
- The Starbucks 2020 ad campaign #WhatsYourName, offered a limited-edition Mermaids cookie to raise £100,000 for the charity which promotes the idea that children who don’t comply with gender stereotypes are ‘transgender.’
One of the ads showed an adolescent girl called Gemma changing her name to ‘James’ while buying coffee at Starbucks. Girls now make up 75% of children referred to gender clinics; rapid onset gender dysphoria in teenage girls is recognised as a concern and companies should not be ‘celebrating’ the confusion and unhappiness of this cohort and promoting it as an example of ‘diversity.’
Consultation questions on protecting people from being taken overseas
Question 9. The consultation document describes proposals to introduce conversion therapy protection orders to tackle a gap in provision for victims of the practice. To what extent do you agree or disagree that there is a gap in the provision for victims of conversion therapy?
- It is not known if children have been taken abroad to be given conversion therapy to prevent them being transgender. But it is documented that clinics outside the UK have been used to access surgery and to prescribe puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones for the under 18s. This could be seen as a form of gay conversion therapy as this group would most likely be gay or lesbian if not given treatment by overseas doctors and therapists.
- Giving charities and teachers the power to apply for such an order could result in vexatious court orders, preventing parents travelling abroad or to live in another country with their children. This would interfere with the freedom of parents to bring up their child as they see fit.
- Proving that the intention was to seek out conversion therapy for gender identity would likely be impossible to prove.
Question 10. To what extent do you agree or disagree with our proposals for addressing the gap we have identified? Why do you think this?
The evidence of this being a problem for trans identifying young people is weak.
Consultation question on the proposals to ensure charities do not support conversion therapy
Question 11. Charity trustees are the people who are responsible for governing a charity and directing how it is managed and run. The consultation document describes proposals whereby anyone found guilty of carrying out conversion therapy will have the case against them for being disqualified from serving as a trustee at any charity strengthened. To what extent do you agree or disagree with this approach? Why do you think this?
- The Charity Commission already has powers to remove a charity from their register if they are found to be carrying out an illegal act. Without a good legal definition of what constitutes gender identity conversion therapy this proposal could apply to individuals who work, entirely legally and properly within a charity, promoting the idea that ‘watchful waiting’ is the best treatment path for children and young people.
- The proposals risk increasing the influence of charities encouraging children and young people to understand themselves as ‘transgender’ and lead to vexatious and malicious complaints against charities that disseminate research-based evidence.
Consultation questions on recognition by authorities of conversion therapy as a problem
Question 12. To what extent do you agree or disagree that the following organisations are providing adequate action against people who might already be carrying out conversion therapy? (Police, Crown Prosecution Service, other statutory service)? Why do you think this?
- Many police forces are signed up to the Stonewall Diversity Champions scheme, the Crown Prosecution Service is a former member. Organisations that subscribe to Stonewall’s definition of gender identity and their campaigning aims to bring in a ban on conversion therapy must be seen to disengage from Stonewall before they can be trusted to provide adequate action against those they believe are carrying out conversion therapy.
- Existing crime legislation provides adequate protection. The police and the CPS should not be given more powers to prosecute parents and professionals who are working to safeguard children but may be accused of ‘conversion therapy’ if they do not unquestioningly affirm a child’s transgender identity.
Question 13. To what extent do you agree or disagree that the following organisations are providing adequate support for victims of conversion therapy? (Police, Crown Prosecution Service, other statutory service)? Why do you think this?
Other statutory services: Somewhat Disagree
- Only qualified professional clinicians and therapists should provide support for victims of conversion therapy. The police and the CPS are not qualified in this specialist area of therapy.
- The NHS provides no service for detransitioners and those who live with the regret of medical transition. Although there is no way of reversing surgery, no therapeutic or counselling service is provided on the NHS to help and support those with regret to manage psychological problems arising from medical transition, nor information and advice about stopping hormones safely. Detransitioners feel themselves to be victims of conversion therapy and should be included in any victim support services.
Question 14. Do you think that these services can do more to support victims of conversion therapy? If yes, what more do you think they could do?
- The NHS must make it a matter of urgent priority that those young people wanting to ‘transition back’ to their biological sex are given help to do so. This could include counselling and medical help with the effects of cross-sex hormones.
- The NHS should be building a reliable evidence base through rigorously tracking outcomes for children and young people.
Equalities impacts appraisal
Here you can suggest the need for an Equalities Impact Assessment of the affirmation approach on gay and lesbian children and young people. Testimony from detransitioners suggests that a large percentage feel they were given inadequate counselling before undergoing medical transition.
Studies you might include as evidence: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00918369.2021.1919479