LWD Submission to Government Conversion Therapy Consultation

 

Labour Women’s Declaration working group submitted our response to the government’s Conversion Therapy Consultation on 22nd December 2021. We hope that if you are reading this before the closing date of 4th February 2022, you have either submitted your own response or will be doing so. You may find ideas in our document that will prove useful, but we ask that you make sure not to copy the wording, as this will be picked up and may result in submissions being ignored.

LWD Conversion therapy consultation response

[Please note:

  • embedded links do not work on the consultation response form, and we therefore gave each of them in full in our submission
  • the questions are not numbered in the response form, but refer to the numbers given in the consultation document
  • some questions (notably 2 and 3) do not provide a box for the response; we submitted them, suitably labelled, in the next available box]

Do you agree or disagree that the Government should intervene to end conversion therapy in principle?

Somewhat agree

 0.1  We absolutely and unequivocally agree that gay conversion therapy (lesbian, gay, bisexual) should end.  However, we are deeply concerned about this proposed legislation seeking to cover both the well-understood issue of gay conversion therapy and also the much less clearly-defined concept of gender identity conversion therapy, where neither the term ‘gender identity’ nor what conversion therapy might mean in that context are defined in this proposal.  We believe the two issues should be considered separately.

0.2 For good law to be made, there must be evidence of harm, and a convincing case that the harm is amenable to legislation.  We are unconvinced that there is anything resembling a good evidence base from which to construct legislation.

0.3 Attempting to legislate regarding ‘conversion therapy’ for both sexual orientation and gender identity, as if they were similar enough to be considered together, is exceptionally problematic.  Sexual orientation is not a medical condition and does not require any form of treatment.  Gender identity (not defined) relates to medical and surgical interventions.  This makes the proposal for legislation problematic from the start.

0.4 The evidence produced for the purpose of this proposal is exceptionally weak, and it is extraordinary that the government would choose to go ahead on the basis of the Coventry University report.  Many of the points we make here are discussed in more detail by the Sex Matters response to the research.

0.5 No studies relating to ‘gender identity’ conversion therapy in the UK were found by the Coventry research.  One of the only two regarding gay conversion therapy in the UK failed to define the term ‘conversion therapy’, which could have been interpreted by respondents in ways that bear no relation to the types of intervention that would be amenable to any form of legislation.  The US studies force a definition of gay conversion therapy onto ‘gender identity conversion therapy’, attempting to parallel it with evangelical efforts to ‘pray the gay away’.

0.6 Regarding the harm inflicted, while there is no doubt that electric shock treatment and ‘chemical castration’, as used in the past as gay conversion therapy, do cause harm, it is concerning that the research about current forms of conversion therapy assumes a causal link between such past episodes of claimed conversion therapy and current mental ill-health.  It is shocking that researchers have not been careful to distinguish between correlation and causation.

0.7 Given all the points raised above, which make clear the complexity of this proposal and the notion of ‘conversion therapy’, six weeks is far too short a consultation time.  Additionally, to attempt to legislate regarding gender identity and the appropriate approach before the Cass Review has reported seems to ensure bad law.

0.8 For all these reasons, we cannot agree that the government should intervene to ‘end conversion therapy’ in this way and at this time.

Q1. 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

1.1 We do not support the proposal.  The use of ‘aggravators’ to increase a sentence has not been particularly helpful for many groups, and we are unclear why it is believed that physical assault of itself is inadequate as a charge.  The statement (paragraph 32) that people have been turned away from ‘statutory services’ is confusing – what services are being referenced, and why would someone who has experienced physical violence be turned away?

1.2  In relation to sexual orientation, it is unclear what further bans are needed – existing criminal legislation covers all known physical acts of conversion therapy.

1.3 We also wonder how such legislation can be undertaken, given the apparent conflation of homosexuality – lesbian, gay, bisexual – as a sexual orientation with what is termed ‘gender identity’, an undefined term that has no observable, testable or material reality.  Sexual orientation has long been understood as a material reality of human sexuality, and is protected by law. ‘Gender identity’, on the other hand, appears to be a purely subjective belief, has no objective test or scientific evidence, and, unlike sexual orientation, is not defined or discussed in the Equality Act.

Q2. 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?

Strongly disagree

 2.1 These proposals are disastrous.  One of the key aspects of current transgender/gender identity ideology approaches is to insist on affirmation, with transitioners being supported to have absolute certainty.  Questioning (paragraphs 35, 37) is disapproved of within the trans community (as detransitioners have found out to their considerable cost).  Hence, people tend to present for psychotherapy, whether from their own decision or as a requirement for medical/surgical interventions, stating that they ‘are’ trans.  This would appear to mean that no exploration of the whole breadth and depth of what is happening for the person can be undertaken.  From the psychotherapist/counsellor etc viewpoint, this means that the very job they are there to do (neutral, exploratory talking therapy) becomes impossible.  Incidentally, no individuals ‘question’ whether they themselves ‘are LGBT’.  They might question whether one of those letters is relevant to them, but this conflation of different things makes the whole of this consultation document very muddled.

2.2  This very question starts from the assumption that there is such a thing as ‘being transgender’, as if it were some fixed, observable, material reality.  It is in fact no such thing – it is a notion ungrounded in science that some people have an internal knowledge of ‘who they really are’ that is confused and confusing.

2.3 The ‘existing clinical regulatory frameworks’ (paragraph 35) referred to include the Memorandum of Understanding 2.  This document has been the subject of considerable concern among many in the profession, as its wording has already created a chilling effect for any work that is not straightforwardly affirmative with anyone claiming a transgender identity.  It has been written from an entirely trans-affirmative ideological position.  There is, in fact, a considerable risk that insisting on affirmation will lead to ‘conversion therapy’ for lesbians and gay men who have been convinced by those with whom they are in contact (online or otherwise) that they ‘must be trans’.

2.4 Paragraph 38 suggests that there are reports of counsellors/psychotherapists comparing feelings of same-sex attraction or ‘being transgender’ (see comment at 2.2) to a defect, deficiency or addiction.  We note that this version of what the psychotherapist/counsellor thinks comes from those who believe that they have experienced conversion therapy.  Clearly this would not be an appropriate way of conducting talking therapies, but it is unclear whether there is any reason whatsoever to believe that the psychotherapists/counsellors concerned actually hold such views.

2.5 Paragraph 39 suggests that it may be entirely forbidden for psychotherapists and counsellors to provide talking therapy to anyone under 18 years old who is claiming a transgender identity.  Additionally, it is hard to know what “appropriate information about the potential impacts, short and longer term” of talking therapies might refer to.  Has research been done?  How will it be possible for a psychotherapist/counsellor to prove that they have no intention of changing someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity?  They may well, as part of good practice, want to probe an individual’s decision and the stated reasons for that decision, along with enabling the person to explore the context of that decision.  For someone whose thinking has become rigidly fixated on ‘changing gender’, any such probing may be perceived as attempting to change that specific belief they have about themselves, whereas in reality this is merely what psychotherapists/counsellors do, to enable people to explore how they have come to the views/beliefs/feelings that they have. The clear need for psychological work with under-18s is outlined in this November 2021 article in the Journal of Clinical Nursing, and an article in the Journal of Infant, Child, and Adolescent Psychotherapy, concerning clinical and ethical considerations, argues that the neglect of psychotherapy in the treatment of children and adolescents experiencing gender dysphoria is preventing the most effective approach.

2.6  It is also deeply concerning that despite the statement in paragraph 25 that parents will not be criminalised for imparting specific religious teachings to their children, the discussion of coercive and controlling behaviour in families (paragraphs 48 to 53) suggests that parents who, without religious motivation, simply seek to prevent their children embarking on a potentially damaging course towards puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones and surgery could be criminalised for merely behaving as responsible parents, providing boundaries and care.

Q3. How far do you agree or disagree with the penalties being proposed?

Strongly disagree

3.1 The penalties and the way of deciding on ‘guilt’ are deeply concerning.  The section on  consent is particularly worrying (paragraph 47).  There is no way of outlining to a prospective client of talking therapy exactly what might happen nor what the outcomes might be – by its very nature, neutral exploratory therapy cannot start from a place of knowing where the work might go.  As for ‘risks’, it may be a ‘risk’ that the individual touches on painful things in the course of a talking therapy, may have to confront difficult feelings – but what those might be is unknowable ahead of time and are a crucial aspect of effective psychotherapy/counselling.

3.2 We are, of course, supportive of legislation around coercive and controlling behaviour.  However, what is suggested in paragraph 52 about an ‘innate aspect of personhood’ is troubling.  The claim of gender identity ideology that one’s unobservable ‘gender identity’ is innate seems here to be validated, such that any suggestion that it might not be quite what the individual will feel in the future (even mere encouragement to consider such a thing) will be regarded as coercive.  To anyone sceptical of the notion that there is some innate ‘gender identity’ unrelated to one’s biological sex, this is deeply worrying.  There is, in fact, no evidence that there is such a thing as an innate gender identity.  Were an anorexic individual to talk about how fat s/he is, it would be considered a dereliction of duty for a psychotherapist/counsellor to merely affirm this belief.

3.3  We agree, as outlined in paragraph 54, that the mere statutory regulation of psychotherapists and counsellors is not the way to prevent conversion therapy.  Medical doctors are, after all, statutorily regulated, and this did not prevent lobotomy being undertaken as the answer to a range of psychological difficulties over many years during the 20th century.  Now this is disparaged as not merely useless but barbaric.

3.4  The prospect of criminalising parents merely for refusing to affirm their dependent children in a claimed ‘gender identity’ is horrifying.  Parents attempting to protect their children from what may be attempts to follow a course of action being promoted among their peers, or from being pressured to turn their same-sex attraction into a supposedly heterosexual one by transitioning, should be supported in their appropriate boundary-setting and care, not accused of conversion therapy.  Often, parents are only too aware of what a confusing time adolescence can be, and what other difficulties and conditions may be affecting their child.  They naturally want to ensure that all possibilities are considered before embarking on risky medication and surgery.  It is quite inappropriate to accuse such parents of ‘conversion therapy’.

Q4. Do you think that these proposals miss anything? If yes, can you tell us what you think we have missed?

Yes

4.1 These proposals entirely fail to explore the range of definitions involved in ‘gender identity’, ‘transgender’ etc, or to make a distinction between such assertions about oneself and the reality of being same-sex attracted (i.e. lesbian, gay or bisexual, LGB).  The conflation of these entirely separate things is not merely unhelpful, but renders attempts at coherent legislation impossible.

4.2 Reference is made to ‘being transgender’ (e.g. paragraphs 36, 42) as if there were an observable or obvious aspect of a person.  The term is not defined and it has no ‘external world’ reference point – it, and ‘gender identity’ are only subjective assumed identities, things people say about themselves which cannot be verified in any sense.  This cannot form the basis for legislation.

4.3 If legislation is made including such terms as ‘being transgender’ it fixes into law the tenet of gender identity ideology that there is some innate ‘gender identity’ that is unobservable and the individual’s statement of such a sense has to be taken as material evidence.  This is unscientific, has ramifications for much else in law (particularly concerning single-sex provision in sport, hospital wards, and much more).  No such legislation should be created without a full exploration of the implications for other legislation.

4.4 There appears to have been no consultation with detransitioners and desisters (who have much to contribute about the conversion therapy of affirmation-only responses), nor with women’s groups or LGB groups.  How it can be possible to create workable legislation without contributions from so many of the groups impacted is hard to understand.

Q5. 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?

Somewhat disagree

 5.1  The Broadcasting Code has not prevented the promotion of ‘gender identity’ and ‘being transgender’, which has suggested to children and young people, as well as their parents, guardians and teachers, that there is some innate sense of ‘being the other sex’.  This relies on sex-stereotyping, and all too often has functioned as conversion therapy for potentially lesbian, gay or bisexual children and young people – persuading them that they are ‘really’ the opposite sex.  This is the most widespread and pernicious form of conversion therapy currently occurring.

5.2 Many regulators and broadcasters have been trained by, or influenced by, Stonewall and allied trans-promoting organisations.  This means that there is a bias in their approach to what constitutes conversion therapy.

Q6. 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?

Yes

 6.1 There have been a number of programmes on BBC television and radio that promote gender identity ideology as fact, encouraging transition as a ‘solution’ for children who are unhappy, uncomfortable with their bodies for any reason etc.  ‘Just a Girl’ was advertised referring to ‘a child born in the wrong body’ for its Radio 4 audio version (a debunked notion that persists in gender ideology) and presented also on CBBC.  ITV provided ‘I Am Leo’ which similarly presented ‘being transgender’ as an innate aspect of personhood.  These programmes promote ‘conversion’ from the sex a child actually is to a ‘gender identity’ that mimics the opposite sex.

6.2  One of the most heinous programmes that promoted transitioning was ‘Transitioning Teens’ (screened in August 2021 and available on BBC iPlayer) which barely mentions the possibility of psychotherapy/counselling and consistently refers to medication and surgery as ‘treatment’ and compares the waiting times with those for serious medical conditions. Information about getting surgery abroad, about the sources of hormone medication etc, alongside discredited suicide statistics, make this essentially a conversion therapy promotion, encouraging teenagers with mental health issues to focus on physical ‘solutions’ with lifelong impacts.

Q7. 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?

Neither agree nor disagree

 7.1 Advertising which normalises or glamorises childhood transition should be understood already to be a safeguarding issue.  However, this is not currently the case.  Ensuring that the codes explicitly preclude such advertising is essential to avoid such potential transition encouragement (which is a form of conversion therapy).

Q8. 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?

Yes

8.1 Recently, Lush has advertised the availability of binders through their Paddington store.  Binders are used to constrict and flatten breasts, for females to appear more ‘masculine’.  To have such garments (which damage breast tissue, particularly that of developing teenagers) promoted through a popular source of beauty and skincare products, frequented most particularly by girls and young women, is clearly damaging, and a form of advertising which encourages the conversion of lesbians to trans-identified women.

Q9. 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?

Neither agree or disagree

9.1 Much would depend on how such protection orders are implemented and understood.  Would they, for example, prevent children being taken abroad for the prescribing of puberty blockers or cross-sex hormones, or surgery?  It is well-documented that this has happened, including by the CEO of Mermaids who took her child to the USA (for puberty blockers and then cross-sex hormones), and Thailand (radical surgery) to progress transition when she was unable to obtain what she regarded as the correct treatment in this country.

9.2  There is the possibility of vexatious cases, particularly where there is already disagreement between parents about where the child is to live.  There would need to be quite thorough investigation of any complaint.

Q10. To what extent do you agree or disagree with our proposals for addressing the gap we have identified? Why do you think this?

Neither agree or disagree

10.1 Given the lack of definitions, including for gender identity conversion therapy, and the clear possibility of work to help a young person explore what is really happening for them being characterised as ‘conversion therapy’, there would need to be far clearer definitions, and well-grounded understanding of supportive, non-affirmatory, approaches to children and young people, to ensure that parents, teachers and others are not criminalised for arranging effective non-affirmatory psychotherapy/counselling and other forms of help.

Q11. 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?

Neither agree or disagree

11.1  Given the lack of definitions, including for gender identity conversion therapy, there is danger of such law being used against those who promote a ‘watchful waiting’ approach.  Despite this being recognised by many experts as a valid, and probably the most appropriate approach, given that all research done demonstrates that a very high proportion of those experiencing gender dysphoria or claiming a gender identity when young in fact are reconciled to their sexed bodies after going through puberty, it is nonetheless regarded by gender identity ideologues as a form of conversion therapy.  Hence such a law could be used to prevent any charity representation of those who do not adhere to gender identity beliefs.

Q12. 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?

(Required) Strongly agree Somewhat agree Neither agree or disagree Somewhat disagree Strongly disagree Prefer not to say
Police         *
Crown Prosecution Service  

        *

OTHER statutory service  

        *

12.1 Crime legislation is quite adequate to deal with everything traditionally understood as gay (LGB) conversion therapy, and is pursued by the police service and the Crown Prosecution Service.

12.2 A problem could arise concerning the ill-defined ‘gender identity conversion therapy’, given that many police forces are members of Stonewall’s Diversity Champions scheme, and while the Crown Prosecution Service is no longer a member, many policies and procedures would have been put in place during its long period as a member.  Stonewall’s views and attitudes on these matters characterise non-affirming approaches to gender identity claims as ‘conversion therapy’, and this has the potential to criminalise psychotherapists, counsellors, parents, teachers and others for simply supporting children and young people through difficult periods by ‘watchful waiting’ and similar non-affirmative means.

Q13. 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?

 

(Required) Strongly agree Somewhat agree Neither agree or disagree Somewhat disagree Strongly disagree Prefer not to say
Police           *
Crown Prosecution Service  

          *

OTHER statutory service  

          *

13.1  While the police have developed specialist supportive approaches for the victims of rape and sexual assault, they do not have the specialist skills to support victims of conversion therapy.  Such work should properly be undertaken by specialist members of the psychological professions, particularly within the NHS.

13.2  It is concerning that there is no specialist service in the NHS to provide support for detransitioners, who are victims of a particular form of conversion therapy.  We would urge the establishment of such a specialist service.

Q14. 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?

Yes

14.1 As outlined in 13.2, there is a serious need for a specialist service for detransitioners, providing psychotherapeutic support, and medical help to manage the ongoing effects of cross-sex hormones and surgery.

Economic appraisal

Q15. Do you have any evidence on the economic or financial costs or benefits of any of the proposals set out in the consultation? If yes, please can you provide us with details of this evidence, including where possible, any references to publications?

No

Equalities impacts appraisal

Q16. There is a duty on public authorities to consider or think about how their policies or decisions affect people who are protected under the Equality Act 2010. Do you have any evidence of the equalities impacts of any proposals set out in the consultation? If yes, can you provide us with details of this evidence, including where possible, any references to publications.

Yes

16.1 We are very concerned indeed that the lack of counselling/psychotherapy prior to any moves toward transition, particularly for those under 25 years old, is resulting in some young lesbians, or girls who might become lesbians, being persuaded (or bullied) into believing they must ‘be trans’.  To pass legislation making it even harder for psychotherapists and counsellors to work with such women and girls has a major impact on those who come under the protected characteristic of sexual orientation.  It risks acting as conversion therapy in itself.

16.2  There is growing evidence of what is termed ‘rapid onset gender dysphoria’ (ROGD) which spreads the sense of ‘gender dysphoria’ as a ‘social contagion’, particularly among teenage girls.  This group is known to be susceptible to such social contagions (fainting fits, hysterical laughter, self-harm  and much more have been recorded over the decades) and in the absence of effective counselling or psychotherapy if such are deemed to be ‘conversion therapy’, a serious impact on the protected characteristic of sex will be seen.

16.3  It has been recognised that a high percentage of young people referred to gender identity services are already diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum or as having a mental health condition of the kind recognised under the Equality Act 2010 as a disability; others obtain such a diagnosis later (often when the hoped-for alleviation of distress does not occur or the individual is even less well as a result of moves towards, or completion of, transition).  The crucial importance of exploratory psychotherapy/counselling and/or psychiatric assessment before embarking on medical or surgical treatments cannot be over-stated.  It is of paramount importance to ensure such children and adolescents do not embark on a path of transition when it has merely been seized on in hope of alleviating distress that is caused by something else entirely.  This would be a dreadful infringement of the rights of people with the protected characteristic of disability under the Equality Act.

16.4  We have mentioned detransitioners at 2.1, 4.4, 13.2 and 14.1.  These are people, mostly young women, who embarked on gender transition (often beginning in adolescence) but have come to recognise that there were other reasons for their distress and that transitioning did not solve their problems.  Indeed, the physical and psychological consequences of transition can be severe.  If any barriers are placed to the provision of talking therapies for young people, there are bound to be even more people who regret transition, and who need support to deal with its consequences.  Most of those who have spoken out, and those surveyed, have pointed to the lack of proper psychological investigation of their decision to transition and felt it would have made a considerable difference.  Additionally, as previously outlined, many transition because of homophobia including their own internalised homophobia.  It is often through counselling/psychotherapy, sought as a result of their continuing unhappiness, that they have come to realise their wish to detransition and accept their sexed body and/or sexual orientation.  It would be catastrophic if they were unable to undertake such psychological help as a result of a conversion therapy ban.  Hence such a ban would impact on this group, with the protected characteristic of gender reassignment as well as, often, sex and sexual orientation.

16.5  Any proposals concerning conversion therapy in relation to ‘gender identity’ highlight the need for vastly more investment in mental health services, especially for young people.  CAMHS services are virtually unavailable for any but the most extreme cases (individuals who could have been helped much earlier, avoiding very serious outcomes), and are now limited to relatively short-term work.  The implications are serious particularly for all those mentioned above.

16.6  Publications:

  • Dr David Bell, retired consultant psychiatrist at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust, has spoken and written in several contexts about the potential damage to girls in particular and to potentially lesbian and gay young people. This transcript from the Nolan Investigates podcasts makes several of these points (the original podcast is here).
  • Regarding autism and gender dysphoria.
  • The connection between autism and a belief that one ‘is transgender’ are outlined in this article along with the comment that this may have implications for access to mental health care and proper support.
  • This personal account from a detransitioned autistic woman provides excellent analysis of why and how so many ASD young people come to identify as transgender, and hence the need for psychological work rather than unquestioning affirmation.
  • Psychotherapist Bob Withers lays out the importance of patient, long-term exploratory psychotherapy to ensure that no-one embarks on medication or surgery when it will not help them.
  • Dr Marcus Evans makes clear that some people present to clinics in the hope of a physical treatment for their psychological pain.
  • The complexity of the issue and the problems of failing to explore the varied difficulties are outlined in this article which reviews much of the existing research. The impacts (on girls in particular, on those with same-sex attractions, and on those with a range of psychological difficulties) of failing to engage in talking therapy are made clear.
  • The rapid increase in girls presenting to gender clinics as mentioned at 16.2 is strongly correlated with the increase in depression recorded among this group with the protected characteristic of sex.
  • Surveys of detransitioners highlight the need for psychological work.

Q17. Would you like your response to be treated as confidential?

No

Q18. What is your email address? If you enter your email address then you will automatically receive an acknowledgement email when you submit your response.

labourwomensdeclaration@gmail.com

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