“Your lives matter, and you should be protected from abuse, coercion and control just as much as the next person.” People comment how tense I am all the time. Reading that, from the Conservative MP Peter Gibson, I felt my tension lift a little. It should not need to be said, but I am glad it is. One trans constituent asked, “surely I deserve to feel safe, have some dignity and live my life in peace without being demonised?”
The debate was mostly positive. MPs from the Conservatives, Labour, LibDems, SNP, Alliance and Plaid Cymru all spoke for a ban: seventeen made speeches, and fifteen others made brief interventions. Committed anti-trans campaigners Jackie Doyle-Price and Neale Hanvey spoke in favour of the principle of a ban while minimising need and seeking to limit effect. Three Tory MPs made interventions against. MPs spoke of being gay, and gay MP Jacob Young, Con, said, “the rights of LGB people were only won by LGBT people, and that it if were not for the T people, [Kate Osborne] and I would not have the rights that we enjoy today?” Osborne agreed. Yet the Minister still refused a trans conversion ban.
It’s a less bruising debate than some to read or watch than some, but it’s still over two hours and twenty thousand words. So here are some of the highlights. The Roll of Shame, brief in this case, comes at the end. Even the most supportive MPs name the difficulties trans people face: I will not skate over them. There are eleven mentions of suicide and suicidal ideas in the debate, one reason why vulnerable people might not want to read it. Other MPs spoke of lasting psychological harm from conversion attempts, or how trans people suffer even greater sexual violence than LGB people. Yet John Nicolson said how in the last year Canada, France and New Zealand have passed bans, and Scotland will soon.
The Scottish Human Rights Commission said, “the injury caused by practices of ‘conversion therapy’ are grounded on the premise that LGBT+ people are sick, diseased, and abnormal and must therefore be treated.” This is “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment”. That it is lawful promotes the idea that LGBT people need fixed. 9% of trans men have been offered conversion.
Two people talking, much like a therapist and client or minister and parishioner would, should be criminal if one has the intention of talking the other out of being gay or trans. I know it harmed me. It is not criminal now, though therapists’ professional bodies find it unethical. The UN, echoed by several MPs, compared it to torture. The problem is with the details.
What else, apart from a parody of talking therapy, might be criminalised? Members suggested exorcisms and deliverance prayers, or even a person in a family or church being monitored to see they do not contact LGBT people or allies.
Dr Julian Mullan, Con, who said he was there to learn, drew a distinction between Conversion, an attempt to force someone to be other than they are, and exploratory therapy which helps the patient know themself and decide on treatment. As a concept, the distinction is entirely clear. Unfortunately, anti-trans campaigners such as James Esses repeatedly claim that they only want informed consent and exploration. But intent can be proved, from their actions. Former solicitor Alyn Smith said it is perfectly possible to protect “honest conversations”.
Kirsten Oswald gave an excellent speech. If you read one, I suggest hers.
Elliot Colburn, Con, set out the case for a ban. Trans people are twice as likely as LGB to undergo conversion practices. We suffer, so should be protected. A ban can be made without unintended consequences. Allowing trans conversion would make LGB conversion legal by a loophole, such as camp gay men and butch lesbians being targeted because of their gender. He said consent would be allowed, but he did not consider someone could consent to harm. Mary Kelly Foy, Labour, said trans people are vulnerable and our “consent” could be coerced.
Alicia Kearns, Con, was furious that trans had been excluded from the proposed ban, and that the ban was almost cancelled entirely. She called this “shameful”. She said trans people have been harmed by the claims they do not deserve the protections of LGB people. She wanted to protect us from “those who are so divorced from decency and compassion—so hellbent on their world view and brand of torture—that they would cause people to end up depressed, with severe mental suffering or committing suicide”.
She addressed the “misrepresentations” of the anti-trans campaigners. It is not about making affirmative therapy compulsory. Exploratory therapy should have no predetermined outcome, but should affirm the patient’s value and ability to reach conclusions and make choices. She doubted LGB teens were being converted to trans, and professionals certainly would not do that. A ban would not affect trans women in sport, prisons or changing rooms. Her campaigns for women’s rights are not affected by her support for trans rights. She breastfeeds, rather than chest-feeding, she says, but there is no conflict. The proposed ban is about “punishing practices that leave real and enduring psychological scars, and about holding to account those who cause the misery”. She mentioned the two year wait for GIDS.
“I will not stand for the division of the LGBT community,” Kearns said. Others echoed this: Peter Gibson, Con, said “trans people matter to me” as a gay man.
Kate Osborne, Lab, said we must be on the right side of history. At the time of s28, gay people had almost no support in the House of Commons. Zarah Sultana suggested excluding trans people from the ban was the government culture-warring again. Osborne agreed. So did Wera Hobhouse. Nia Griffith said the government’s exclusion of trans people from its proposed ban incites transphobia, and tells trans people the government will not protect us.
More rhetorical flourishes: Luke Pollard, Lab, a gay man, wants the legislation to promote a world “where our diversity is celebrated, not excluded; where people are drawn together in a broad hug, not with a big stick”. Stephen Farry said what should not need to be said: trans people “are not aggressors, seeking to impose upon other people or to make life difficult”. Mary Kelly Foy: “there is no LGB without the T”.
Wera Hobhouse introduced a private Member’s Bill on conversion therapy before. Private Member’s Bills have little chance of success as the government refuses them time for debate, but Hobhouse has introduced nine, and the text of one, her upskirting bill, passed into law. She quoted the Good Law Project. If LGB were protected but T were not, there is a human rights problem- “the difference in treatment between sexual orientation and gender identity would need to be justified and proportionate.”
David Linden, SNP, spoke as a Christian. He condemned the most vulnerable people being used as a political football. He spoke of Christian compassion and love, social justice and equality, and supported trans people.
Stephen Farry, of the Alliance party, said the Northern Ireland Assembly recently passed a motion on banning conversion therapy overwhelmingly, though the DUP opposed. Of course trans people should be included. He said how Northern Ireland is perceived to be reactionary, so England should be able to ban conversion and “treat everyone with equality and dignity for exactly who they are without question”.
John Nicolson, SNP, spoke of a pastor he had met who was practising conversion attempts, saying it was the victim’s last chance of a normal life, even though he had by the attempt driven his gay son to suicide.
Mike Freer, the minister, is working on legislation. “Trans people are our friends and our colleagues,” he said. He knows survivors still suffer years later, and new victims are being subjected to conversion. But he still said, “We do not agree with attempts to change someone’s gender, but we wish to ensure that any action that we bring forward on transgender conversion practices does not have wider implications, such as affecting access to legitimate therapies.” So, trans people will be excluded from the legislation. He gave credence to the ridiculous fear that exploration might be criminalised, when it is clearly distinguished from conversion: conversion has a predetermined outcome, exploration does not. He hopes to introduce a Bill by October. He suggested if amendments were possible, someone might try to reduce trans rights in the Equality Act or Gender Recognition Act. So the Bill must be narrow.
He said the NHS provision for trans is “cumbersome, it is not patient-centred, and it does not work”. So people seek treatment on the “Wild West” of the internet. Here, he might be seen to attack legitimate private health care.
There is now a support service for past victims, run by Galop, the leading LGBT+ anti-violence charity.
Anti-trans campaigner Jackie Doyle-Price gave a careful speech. She wants a ban on “coercive and harmful practices based on ideological opposition” but not “a therapeutic pathway to establish informed consent”, which she calls necessary support. She claimed gender dysphoria can be “a symptom of something else” such as trauma. She said people should not be given treatment which will harm them. So, she ignores the harm from refusal of treatment to trans people. Both acting and failing to act can carry risk. She confessed that puberty blockers are not irreversible, then claimed hormone treatment is “routinely” given to 16 year olds. This is false. Then she complained about the suffering of detransitioners. She claimed, falsely, that there had been no conversion practices in a clinical setting since 1970, ignoring the case of Robert Withers.
Neale Hanvey, who is gay, was unable to stay in the SNP after multiple complaints, and joined the obsessively anti-trans Alba party. He gave a mean-spirited speech, without the courage to say out loud what he meant. He said that we do not affirm the dysmorphia of anorexics, but challenged by Nadia Whittome he claimed not to be comparing that to the real trans people, only talking about information and consent. Then he said puberty blockers damage people like chemotherapy does. So people taking them need all the information on damage and to consider all the possibilities. He claimed GIDS staff felt pressure to be unquestioningly affirmative of gender identity. He wanted to ban conversion practices and stop using the term “therapy” for them, but also to persuade teenagers they weren’t trans really.
Anti-trans campaigners made brief interventions. Peter Bottomley, Con, complained again of Kathleen Stock and Helen Joyce being bullied. It looks like the old perv fancies them. Nick Fletcher, Con, who resents it when he finds modern life confusing, claimed banning conversion practices would affect freedom of speech. That’s like saying banning rape affects freedom to have sex.
Fletcher wanted parents and teachers to tell trans children to “watch and wait”, rather than even have exploratory therapy. Where there is a strong taboo on insulting other members, people get creative. Alyn Smith, SNP, said, “I will take the intervention at face value as a genuine expression of concern,” before refuting it.
Bernard Jenkin, Con, said everything spoken about was an offence already. What new crime would there be? Well, intent to convert would be an aggravating factor in other crimes, which it is not, now. Elliot Colburn suggested deliverance prayers and exorcisms are not currently criminal. General attempts to convert are not, either.
Other MPs speaking for a ban included Jeremy Corbyn, Bell Ribeiro-Addy, Dr Kieran Mullan, Nadia Whittome, Alex Sobel and Anneliese Dodds.