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It would enshrine dubious claims as unarguable facts, and it endangers freedom and young people

By Freddie Attenborough
8 February, 2024

Although a proposed ban on "conversion therapy" was left out of the King's Speech last November, the spirit motivating this stillborn legislation appears to live on, skulking in the shadows of Westminster's less salubrious postcodes and whispering sweet nothings into the ears of any Parliamentarians that happen to pass by on their way towards "The Right Side of History".

Just before Christmas, for instance, a Westminster Hall debate brought by Labour MP Christian Wakeford took place in which a succession of Labour MPs urged the government to bring forward such a bill. In addition, a private members bill in the Lords banning conversion therapy is currently at second reading stage, and another private members bill, this one proposed by the hard-Left Brighton MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle, is due to be debated in the Commons in March.

Back in January, Keir "the wind watcher" Starmer finally got in on that act, committing the Labour Party to banning all forms of conversion therapy if Labour wins the general election, which will take place later this year.

Flanked by a raft of frontbenchers, including his deputy, Angela Rayner, and the Shadow Women and Equalities Minister, Anneliese Dodds, Sir Keir this week welcomed members of the lobby group LGBT+ Labour to a reception at Westminster in order to celebrate the news. Alongside a "full, trans-inclusive ban on all forms of conversion therapy" Starmer promised the thronging mass of immutable, biological bodies in attendance at the event that the Labour Party "fully support the view that conversion therapy is psychologically damaging abuse".

Of course, there are some forms of "conversion therapy" that no sensible person would object to being banned, such as attempts to stop someone from being gay or transgender via exorcism, electro-shock therapy, physical violence or food deprivation. No-one is disputing that "treatments" of this kind are appalling, and that they have no place in a free society. But a bill isn't required to ban them. Such practices are already illegal in the UK.

Indeed, when the Government commissioned researchers from Coventry University to study the evidence on conversion therapy, they managed to find just 30 people from the past two decades who claimed to have experienced such treatment, and the only examples of "horrific and life-altering practices" they were able to unearth -- during the process of, among other things, trawling through "entries for conversion therapy in Wikipedia" -- were drawn from the United States. Given Sir Keir's stated intention to create a "trans-inclusive" ban, it's also worth pointing out that the researchers could find just six trans or non-binary people who said they had been offered conversion therapy, while only three of them claimed to have undergone it.

As Mark Jenkinson, the Tory MP for Workington put it at the time: "From all the published evidence, it is clear that current laws are sufficient to cover the vanishingly rare number of cases of conversion therapy."

But if that's the case, then what is it, exactly, that Sir Keir's proposed legislation will end up banning?

The obvious, rather chilling answer is that it will target the expression of opinions critical of gender identity theory, and, more specifically, the idea that vulnerable children and young adults have an inner "gender identity" that is different from the sex of their body.

That's not idle speculation either, since we know from the experience of other countries where legislation in this area has previously been introduced, that trans activists and their Parliamentary allies seem to regard the policy making process not as an opportunity for negotiation and dialogue, but as a mechanism for consecrating their own pristine, unsullied beliefs in law.

Take Canada's Bill C-4 ("An act to amend the Criminal Code (conversion therapy)"). Three years ago, it made it an offence to "cause another person to undergo conversion therapy". According to Canada's criminal code, it is now a crime to "repress a person's non-cisgender gender identity" or to "repress... a person's gender expression that does not conform to the sex assigned to the person at birth".

Note the use of that word "repress", which instantly materialises in law a discrepancy between "gender" and "sex". The fact that a person's true "gender identity" is not always visible is no longer contestable on the grounds that this notion may well be little more than a quasi-theological abstraction. As per the wording of Canada's newly minted legislation, if it isn't always visible then that is simply -- and only -- because it is being "repressed".

It's not difficult to spot the inference: "Gender identity" and "gender expression" are not contestable theoretical postulates, but actually cold, hard, unquestionable facts.

That's not so much law-making, as ontology-building.

The result of this legislative sleight of hand is that Canadian parents [and teachers, and therapists, and clinicians, and...] who want to explore the many, varied reasons why children under their care may be showing signs of gender confusion, or who might want them to see a psychotherapist before agreeing to irreversible medical procedures, are no longer asking perfectly legitimate questions about a theory, but unnecessarily -- and "shamefully" -- prolonging those children's trauma.

In this way it becomes possible to treat people expressing what were once perfectly legitimate criticisms of gender identity theory, as "bigots", "transphobes", "child abusers", "reality deniers" and so on, before exiling them from the more genteel quarter of Canada's marketplace of ideas, and putting them on notice that they risk prosecution and up to five years in jail.

Conversely, Canadian trans rights activists and health professionals who encourage children to change their gender -- which, as the UK's Minister for Women and Equalities, Kemi Badenoch, has pointed out, is technically a form of "conversion therapy" in itself -- have nothing to fear from this new law, because of course they are "merely" emancipating children from the shackles of what is now, factually, an ill-fitting, false and psychologically harmful gender identity.

We see this same sleight of hand at work across the various recent legislative proposals to ban "conversion therapy" emanating from the UK. Baroness Burt's Private Members' Bill, for example, defines "conversion therapy" as:

(2) ... any practice aimed at a person or group of people which demonstrates an assumption that any sexual orientation or gender identity is inherently preferable to another, and which has the intended purpose of attempting to --

(a) change a person's sexual orientation or gender identity, or

(b) suppress a person's expression of sexual orientation or gender identity.

There would be the whiff of Soviet-era Lysenkoism about any state sanctioned attempt to protect a supposedly scientific framework from scrutiny. But given that ours is a culture in which tolerance of dissent from gender identity ideology is already in short supply, it's easy to see how a trans conversion therapy ban which materialised the concept of a "gendered soul" in this way could quickly be weaponised by trans activists.

In the past few years, a "gender affirmative model" has taken hold in clinical settings like the NHS's controversial, soon-to-be-closed Tavistock Clinic. Faced with cases of gender distress, this model encourages clinicians to affirm rather than question a child's chosen gender identity, before then putting them on a medical pathway that can have lifelong, irreversible consequences.

This culture of silencing any evidence-based challenge to gender identity ideology is already deeply concerning

As per the findings of NHS England's interim Cass Review last year, clinicians at the Tavistock said they felt under pressure to adopt an unquestioning affirmative approach in a manner that was at odds with the standard process of clinical assessment and diagnosis that they had been trained to undertake in all other clinical encounters.

This culture of silencing any evidence-based challenge to gender identity ideology is already deeply concerning given that we now know that puberty blockers -- intended to delay the onset of puberty so children suffering from gender dysphoria can have more time before deciding whether to have surgery -- can cause lifelong harms, such as bone disease and infertility; that the majority of children wrestling with their identity and sexuality ultimately grow out of their gender dysphoria as they reach adolescence; that many young girls develop dysphoria and/or adopt a transgender identity in clusters of girls in schools or among friendship groups, and in tandem with binge watching social media channels; and that underlying issues like autism, ADHD, homophobic bullying, sexual abuse, and other traumas are as likely to cause gender dysphoria as a supposedly "repressed" gender identity.

But how much more pressure will cautious doctors, clinicians and therapists feel under to take an affirmative approach if trans activists have recourse to a new law while attempting to inveigle employers, professional associations and regulators into agreeing with them that "intellectual doubts", "research evidence", "unique patient characteristics", "longitudinal studies", "inferences drawn from systematic reviews", "clinical data", "past casework" and so on represent little more than transphobia-in-action?

Doctors, in particular, have both a right and a duty to recommend what in their judgement is the best clinical pathway for a patient who identifies as trans, particularly if that patient is a minor. Would a suitably weaponised trans conversion ban require them to break the Hippocratic oath on pain of prosecution for "suppressing/repressing" someone's true identity?

Trans activists and trans lobby groups like Stonewall like to pooh-pooh this sort of thing as scaremongering, but anyone familiar with the fraught wrangling now taking place over the meaning of the word "sex" in the Equality Act 2010 can attest to the unintended but profound consequences that a particular word or phrase can have on the right to freedom of expression in relation to society's most controversial issues.

All of which brings us to that vague, potentially capacious word "practice", as it appears in the phrase "conversion therapy practice".

The Christian Institute recently obtained legal opinion on the question of whether Baroness Burt's Private Members' Bill would interfere with a person's Article 9 (freedom of thought) and Article 10 (freedom of expression) rights under the European Convention on Human Rights, and it had this to say about the draft law's use of the word "practice":

It is possible that it would be interpreted (as with the Equality Act 2010 definition) to imply an element of potentially continuing or habitual conduct. However, it is also possible that it would be interpreted simply as meaning 'conduct'. Even if it were interpreted in line with the first meaning essayed above, that meaning remains relatively wide. As noted by the Court of Appeal, a one-off decision might be a 'practice' if it was considered to be something that might be done in future (including in a hypothetical future situation). On either interpretation, therefore, a wide range of conduct will be caught.

In other words, a poorly worded bill risks catching a "wide range of conduct", effectively criminalising doctors, parents and teachers who deviate from an "affirmative" approach to gender dysphoria in children and adolescents -- even if the deviation is only undertaken as part of a one-off, perfectly legitimate conversation with a child, and irrespective of whether that child is their own child, or a child in their care.

In fact, even a carefully drafted trans-inclusive ban that didn't "catch" this type of "conduct" when presented for first reading in the Commons, would be in grave danger of being amended by members of the LGBT+ lobby as it made its way through Parliament.

That's why the Free Speech Union (FSU) is now lobbying hard against a trans conversion ban, and urging Parliamentarians to consider the unintended consequences for freedom of speech if a bill containing any such interdiction is brought forward, in this Parliament or the next.

Given the severity of the proposed legislation's implications, the FSU is also urging members to write to their MPs to highlight these concerns. You can click here to use our automated campaigning tool -- it's a simple and fast process that can have a significant impact. https://freespeechunion.org/take-action/#:~:text=The%20aim%20of%20the%20Bill,these%20concerns%20to%20their%20MPs.

Please join our campaign and help make sure that freedom of speech remains protected, particularly in sensitive and potentially life-altering circumstances.


Christian therapists addressing unwanted same-sex attraction seek external accreditation

Feb 8, 2024

from Religion Media Centre:

The International Foundation for Therapeutic and Counselling Choice, which oversees Christian therapists working with people experiencing "unwanted relational and sexual behaviours", has applied for accreditation by the Professional Standards Authority.

The Foundation is a project of the Core Issues Trust, a charity based in Northern Ireland, which supports those leaving LGBT identities, behaviours, attractions and life choices.

Dr Mike Davidson, director of the IFTCC said: "The advantage of PSA accreditation is that members of the public will feel confident that our therapists, and our supervisory practices, meet the Authority's rigorous standards. Plus for many therapists, accreditation will mean that they can access Public Liability Insurance which is becoming common practice in the therapeutic field".

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