Earlier this year, a consultation on a proposed ban on conversion therapy closed, with enormous numbers of individuals and organisations submitting responses expressing concern about the proposals. Today, via a leak, we have learned that the government is abandoning the plan, and we are relieved. We hope that this means that good supportive services will be developed, rather than a muddled legal route causing further problems.
Obviously, we are entirely opposed to conversion therapy. But the activities always understood as conversion therapy are already illegal and can be prosecuted. The biggest problem of the proposed bill was that it conflated conversion therapy for lesbian, gay and bisexual people with something quite different – counselling and psychotherapy, and even supportive talking by teachers and parents, for children and young people who express concerns about their ‘gender identity’. The proposals suggested that anything other than ‘affirmation’ of a transgender identity would be interpreted as ‘conversion therapy’.
Many submissions to the consultation expressed concern that troubled young people are having their other problems ignored once anything relating to gender is mentioned. Hence the possibility of prosecution for exploratory counselling /psychotherapy, and supportive discussion by parents and teachers, being criminalised, was extremely concerning.
The recently published interim Cass report (a first part of this independent review of gender identity services for children and young people) made clear how important it is for all means of support and expertise to be available.Now that the government has removed the threat of prosecution for undertaking talking therapy with children and young people, we hope that the Cass review will be able to continue to explore the best approaches, and that the desperately under-resourced CAMHS (Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services) will receive the support and funding that they need.