Conversion therapy bill could do more harm than good
IN 2013 A The Conservative government has legalized same-sex marriage. It was the last step in Britain’s social liberalization that began in the 1960s and the Conservatives’ own modernization. Despite opposition at the time, within the party, the result is now considered uncontroversial.
Now another Conservative government is looking for its own moment of modernization. A short public consultation on the ban on “conversion therapy” ends on December 10, with the aim of passing legislation ahead of an international conference on gay and trans issues in London next June. Proponents say it is necessary to end a practice that harms sexual minorities; opponents, that it can aggravate the damage it aims to end.
The plan is to create a criminal offense covering therapy undertaken with the intent to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. It is supported by campaign groups; the executive director of one of them, Stonewall, sees this as so blatantly right that she objected to the public consultation. But critics point to three problems: his amalgamation of gay and trans identities; a weak evidence base; and the introduction of âgender identityâ into the law.
Efforts to redress homosexuals through prayer, exhortation, or “aversive therapy” such as electric shocks were common until the 1960s, when homosexual acts between men were still illegal. But being homosexual is now widely accepted as both harmless and innate, and such treatment as not only cruel but doomed to fail. To the extent that they still occur, it is largely in religious contexts and consists of the laying on of hands and the like, rather than physical abuse (which is already illegal anyway). “There are no longer any legitimate, registered psychotherapists who could help persuade someone that they are not gay,” says David Bell, a psychiatrist who wrote a critical report in 2018 on GIDS, the English clinic specializing in gender for children.
Trans conversion therapy (which the proposed law does not define) is another matter, not because trans people are inherently problematic, not more than gay men, but because unlike sexual orientation, the identity of trans people are inherently problematic. gender is neither well defined nor necessarily stable. “Confusing the two is incredibly dangerous,” says Anna Hutchinson, a clinical psychologist who worked at GIDS. A person can become dissociated from their biological sex for a variety of reasons, including autism spectrum disorder, depression, trauma, or a history of sexual abuse. Responsible clinical practice requires exploring these possibilities. But the term âtrans conversion therapyâ is used to refer to any approach other than the immediate affirmation of a person’s stated sex, says Dr. Hutchinson. “It goes against what therapy is.”
The only guarantee is to recognize that talk therapy may be appropriate if a patient Lgbt status. “But” a lot of my patients don’t ask themselves questions; they say a lot that they’re trans, “says Susan Thompson (not her real name), a family physician who insists on exploring any co-morbidities with patients. trans-identifiers. “The way it’s worded right now, I could end up in jail,” she says. Even if there are few prosecutions, the law would make medical professionals suspicious of anything but the law. This would also reinforce the tendency of schools to accept transgender identities asserted by children, sometimes without even telling parents.
The second complaint about the bill is the poor quality of the evidence on which it is based. A government-commissioned report by researchers at Coventry University attempts to show trans conversion therapy is similar to attempts to “pray to homosexuals.” But this conclusion does not follow from the very limited research presented. The report is based on a handful of articles and interviews, none of which establishes evidence of harm. Much of it is made from an online perception survey based on a six-minute fictional video clip and a single question in an unrepresentative survey conducted by an American transgender lobby group. The growing number of “detransitioners” – people who identify as trans, only to change their minds later – is being ignored.
The third major complaint is that the proposals would introduce the nebulous concept of ‘gender identity’ into UK law for the first time. In 2020, a popular campaign led by feminists succeeded in forcing the government to abandon its plan to allow anyone to change their legal gender as they please. This would, in effect, have made self-proclaimed gender identity the decisive factor in determining who legally counted as a man or a woman, abolishing single-sex spaces and services at once. The plans are “a smokescreen to bring gender identity ideology into law,” says Maya Forstater, one of the founders of Sex Matters, an organization that campaigns for gender-based rights.
The consultation comes as an independent review of gender identity services for children is underway, led by Hillary Cass, former president of the Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health. The results are expected next year. “Why not wait for Cass to post?” Asks Dr. Bell. But the government faces a dilemma. He wants to appeal to younger voters by showing he’s not heavy, while also signaling to older and socially conservative working-class voters that he’s not too “awake.”
That complicates a second U-activate trans issues in quick succession. And if the bill is presented to Parliament in its current form, deputys may fear voting against, although many Tories and a growing number of Labor MPs are worried. Few voters realize the extent to which the term “conversion therapy” is covered up and deputys may fear being vilified as fanatics.
Perhaps the most worrying is the impact on children. Many, it seems, interpret same-sex attraction movements as indicative of a trans identity. In an article from last year in BJPsych Bulletin, a medical journal, Lucy Griffin, consultant psychiatrist in Bristol, and her co-authors discovered that among the girls mentioned GIDS in a calendar year, only 8.5% were primarily attracted to boys.
Once these children reach the age of 16, gender clinics will prescribe synthetic hormones. Such drugs have been used to “chemically castrate” Alan Turing, Dr. Griffin points out. The gay mathematician, whose decryption helped defeat the Nazis, has accepted drugs as an alternative to jail time. “The whole thing,” says Dr Griffin, “risks becoming an exercise in harming the people they are trying to protect.” â
This article appeared in the Great Britain section of the print edition under the headline “Missing the mark”