Answering the conversion therapy consultation questions

A civil servant told me the point of a consultation was to quote the answers you liked, ignore the rest, and claim you were doing the will of the people. Another trick is to keep the questions so narrow you prevent answers you don’t like, as here. The two problems are the ridiculous claim that conversion from cis to trans is a problem, which could be used to block treatment and support for trans people especially trans children, and the free pass for religious bigots. How to put those into the answers, with these questions?

Truss’s proposal to prevent treatment of trans people fits squarely under q16, and tangentially under q4 and q11. Religious bigots not getting away with it fits under qs 4 and 12. These are my answers and comments. You could use them as a template, or as a starting point. Please don’t just copy them. Use your own words where possible, as answers which are mere copies will have less weight. It is worthwhile reading the consultation document before answering. There are also questions about personal experiences of conversion therapy, and I have described mine.

I have now responded to the consultation. There is a limit to the emotional labour I can give to this. But I will keep this post updated if anyone has suggestions about how to respond. Please comment. The consultation runs until 10 December 2021.

I was surprised when I saw the consultation pages. Not all the questions give a text box for answering. In particular, several questions on experience of conversion therapy give only multiple choice answers- I could say that it was imposed by “a person from a faith organisation or group”, but not what happened. I could only tick a box saying it was “spiritual, religious or faith based activities (such as prayer healing)”.

Then they ask, “Do you agree or disagree that the Government should intervene to end conversion therapy in principle?” There was no text box, only multiple choice options from strongly agree to strongly disagree.

“Why do you think this?”

Because it has harmed me.

However Liz Truss’s suggestion that cis to trans conversion practices exist will make the proposals incredibly damaging to trans people. Genuine therapists seeking to help people explore their gender identity with no commitment either way will feel inhibited from helping trans people to realise their trans identity, in case they revert later under pressure of internal and external transphobia and complain about the therapist.

In the consultation questions for everyone, again several only give multiple choice answers, from strongly agree to strongly disagree. The question numbers are from the consultation document, but are not repeated in the consultation itself.

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?

I wrote,

Coupled with the suggestion that conversion from cis to trans is possible, is ever tried, and should be unlawful, the proposal of “physical acts” is deeply disturbing. There is intense pressure in British society against transition and in favour of detransition. Sometimes, people transition more than once- I am aware of people who have transitioned M-F-M-F-M, and F-M-F-M/nonbinary. People who detransition may be unable to accept that they have done so because of external pressure, and often complain against or sue those involved in their initial treatment. There is a risk that providing hormones or surgery to someone who claimed they were trans might be retrospectively construed as “physical acts of conversion therapy”. Even if no legal action might take place, the threat of legal action could produce a significant chilling effect, making it more difficult for trans people to have the treatment we need.

The answer to this problem is to drop the suggestion that anyone attempts to convert someone from cis to trans. There is no evidence for that whatsoever. Anyone prejudiced against LGB people is equally prejudiced against trans people.

With the proposals’ suggestion that religious attempts to convert LGBT+ people to straight and gender conforming should not be affected, the main “physical acts” which actually occur will remain lawful. They are the acts of religious bodies, in “healing” and “exorcism”. I knelt before a priest who laid hands on my head and prayed over me to “heal” me. That was a physical act. It should be unlawful. I was twenty, but I was not capable of consenting to something so deeply harmful, just as I would not be capable of consenting to an assault. I wanted the treatment because my Christian upbringing had filled me with self-loathing and a desperate desire to be “normal”.

Freedom of religion should not include the freedom to harm others, even if those others do not realise at the time they are being harmed.

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?

This question has only a multiple choice answer, from strongly agree to strongly disagree. It becomes meaningless: I “strongly disagree” with the proposals because religious bigots should not get excused. Someone else might strongly disagree because they think all trans are perverts and should be forcibly cured.

I had drafted answers to questions 2 and 3 but there was no text box for either, so I put the drafted answers under question 4, “tell us what you think we have missed”. That seems to say, “What else should we ban?” I was forced to argue they were going to ban things that should not be banned.

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

This question only had multiple choice answers, from strongly agree to strongly disagree.

The penalties are in paragraphs 42-44. They suggest magistrates could impose an unlimited fine or six months’ imprisonment, and the Crown court five years’ imprisonment. “Serious harm” to the victim would mean a Crown Court prosecution. Aggravating factors would include repetition, whether there was payment, the age of the victim and power dynamics between the coercer and victim.

I don’t desire severe punishment. I desire a clear offence, of religious or secular conversion from LGBT to cis/straight, which is likely to be prosecuted if it occurs, unlike rape. I desire no chance that anyone supporting LGBT people might fear being accused retrospectively of trying to convert them to LGBT.

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

At last, a text box. I wrote,

This proposal seems to align with the High Court decision in Bell v Tavistock, which claimed that those under 16 could not consent to puberty blockers. However, the Court of Appeal restored the effect of the Gillick decision, that children could consent. Children can consent to treatment for gender dysphoria. The proposals would prevent such treatment, and should be changed. It should be recognised that no-one attempts to change someone from cis to trans, and no-one gives treatment necessary for a trans child or adult without being reasonably sure that the treatment is justified.

Concerning lack of capacity to consent to trans treatment, this discriminates against mentally ill and disabled people. People of low intelligence might have their ability to consent to trans treatment questioned, but they understand because it is the treatment they need to align with their true nature. People suffering mental illness might have their ability to consent questioned, but the appalling stresses of living with the prejudice of British society against LGBT people may cause mental illness.

The consultation has not defined conversion therapy. It has not said which practices might be criminal. A wide range of practices might be conversion practices- for example, preaching a sermon against homosexuality when there might be gay adults or children present.

The following practices should be unlawful:

Counselling by a professional, religious or lay person with the intent or effect of making an LGBT person celibate, straight, or conforming to the gender assigned at birth, whether an attempt to alter behaviour or underlying character.

A religious person preaching a sermon or giving a talk saying that the religion prohibits gay sex, does not recognise transition, or demands conformity to particular gender roles, when there might be an LGBT or gender nonconforming person present.

Any attempt to heal a person of being LGBT, or to exorcise a spirit making them LGBT. These are assaults, and it should not be possible to consent to them.

However, any treatment given in good faith to help a person transition should always be lawful, even if that person later detransitions. There is no parallel whatsoever in these situations. They are completely different.

You claim in para 44 that an adult should be able to consent to conversion therapy. I would have believed that I consented to being prayed over. I felt desire for it. I desired it because I had been taught to hate myself throughout childhood. Conversion therapy is a harm, and no-one can consent to it. This gives a loophole which will make the proposals worthless.

It is not clear that the proposals will address the harm done by religious leaders teaching that LGBT is in any way wrong.

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?

There is a text box. I did not answer this question. The Ofcom Code contains rules against offence and harm which would conceivably prevent promotion of conversion practices, but I have not studied it sufficiently to see what amendments might be necessary. Please put any suggestions of amendments, or further reading, in the comments.

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?

I am tempted to reply that broadcasting which fails to challenge transphobia might incite people to revert. I don’t think such a reply will do any good.

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?

There are only multiple choice options, from strongly agree to strongly disagree.

I had a look at the ASA non-broadcast code. Again, it has provisions against harm and on health-related products. I don’t have the expertise to assess whether amendments are necessary. I would welcome suggestions in the comments. I did not find them useful in restraining a hate campaign, but this is not the place to complain.

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?

There is a text box, but I have no examples come to mind.

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?

There are headings for the questions. The heading for questions 9-10 is “protecting people from conversion therapy overseas”, but this heading appears misleading. It appears the proposed protection orders could protect someone from therapy in Britain. Q9 gives multiple choice options from strongly agree to strongly disagree.

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

The proposals are at paragraphs 72-78 of the document. I wrote,

The proposals would allow a local authority, or any other person with the court’s permission- a friend, a teacher- to apply for a protection order so that no-one undergoes conversion therapy. Malicious persons could do a great deal of harm with this if the suggestion that cis to trans conversion therapy exists is put into law.

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?

A charity trustee could be disqualified if they have declared bankruptcy, have convictions on crimes involving dishonesty, and a range of crimes including terrorism, bribery, perjury (which I would have thought involved dishonesty). Note the reference to “found guilty”. This refers to criminal prosecution not civil penalties. I find myself suspicious because of the “cis to trans conversion” falsehood, but generally agree someone guilty of conversion therapy should not be a charity trustee. I have nothing specific to add. A charity can ask for a waiver, permitting someone with a conviction to serve as trustee: here is an account of such an application.

In answer to the question, I wrote,

I find myself suspicious because of the “cis to trans conversion” falsehood, but generally agree someone guilty of conversion therapy should not be a charity trustee.

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?

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?

Here there is a text box for “Why do you think this”, and multiple choice for each organisation, again from strongly agree to strongly disagree.

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?

I wrote, “Clergy regularly damn LGBT people to hell. This is thought of as normal. Of course the police, CPS and statutory services do nothing about it.”

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?

I wrote,

The proposal to make cis to trans conversion unlawful, by restricting support for trans people, will damage trans people’s mental health and restrict the contribution we can make to society. Already, the failure to accept trans people in British society and the institutional, internalised and generalised transphobia damages us. A well-drafted conversion practices law could reduce that damage.

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?

I wrote,

The proposal to ban wholly mythical cis to trans conversion therapy is a deliberate wrecking ball aimed to destroy any value in the proposed legislation.

Trans people are protected by the characteristic of gender reassignment. Cis people are not. There is no right to prevent discrimination in favour of trans people. This is because it does not exist. No-one attempts to convert someone from cis to trans, just as no gay people convert impressionable young people. Medical professionals act as gatekeepers, preventing trans people from progressing in treatment as fast as we would wish.

If there is a law against converting someone from cis to trans, or from straight to gay, therapists helping trans people will be restrained by fear. What if their patient, under the incredible pressure of transphobic hatred everywhere in British society, reverts? What if they then deny they were ever trans? The result will be even less support and treatment for trans people.

The proposal also adversely affects mentally disabled people. Even greater scrutiny will be placed on their ability to consent to trans-affirming treatment and their autonomy.

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

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.

I await the report on the consultation. Art sometimes expresses human feelings beautifully:

4 thoughts on “Answering the conversion therapy consultation questions

  1. Wow, wow, wow. This is very disturbing. The recent report from Transgender Trust is chilling too. I will seek a response from my GIC as they should be contributing to the consultation in a very robust way; I wonder who will show the courage and leadership that I read in every one of your essays. Thank you Clare. In any decent version of this world you would be celebrated by those in authority (who seem to be doing their best to crush us) for all you are doing.

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    • Thank you, Alice. Cis to trans conversion practices are a completely ridiculous idea. Though, “forced feminisation” is offered by some dominatrices- perhaps the people who thought the idea up are so ashamed of their fantasies they want to make them illegal. Tories!

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  2. Dear Clare,

    I’ve read your posts on conversion therapy and the UK consultation several times over the last week or so and wanted firstly to thank you for your careful analysis and consideration. I too am worried by the suggestion that cis to trans conversion might be deemed possible and the implications that has for young transitioners and for detransitioners. Secondly, I’d like to say how sorry I am to read of your own conversion therapy and the abusive way you were treated. You deserved better.

    I have now written on my own blog (https://suerichmond.blogspot.com/) about my own attempts at getting spiritual therapy to cure me of being trans. Not as dramatic or abusive as yours but it has taken a lot out of me to recall it. I will be writing about my reaction to the consultation itself in a few days but I am alerting my LGBT friends to it and its flaws.

    There’s also the ladies toilets issue … sigh.

    I’m afraid the current political and media situation in Britain is going to worsen and trans peope are an easy target for groups that are normally mutually antagonistic. I have actually left the UK and part of me says it’s no longer my problem but my revulsion for the current situation there is so intense that I feel I need to do all I can to fight it. Again, thanks for being so alert on issues like this.

    Best wishes

    Sue x

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    • Sue, thank you for sharing that. It is a brave account. It seems the ministers you spoke to did not make a particular effort to make you cis- it was the whole religious experience, the teachings, the worship, the general need to conform. That’s why religious teaching that LGBT is bad is so harmful, but the consultation has ruled out any legal action against that.

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