The Free Speech Union is giving people an opportunity to write to their MP, raising concerns about the impact of a ‘conversion therapy’ ban on free speech. To access the FSU’s campaigning tool, click here. It only takes a couple of minutes to fill in the form.
Few people would object to banning attempts to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity through pseudo-scientific quack ‘treatments’ or by sending them to ‘re-education’ camps where they’re strapped to beds. But it’s unlikely that it’s just these practices that would be caught by the ban, not least because we already have laws that prohibits such practices. As the Government’s own 2021 consultation briefing on conversion therapy put it: “Our existing criminal law framework means that conversion therapy amounting to offences of physical or sexual violence is already illegal in this country.”
There’s also very little evidence that conversion therapy of this type is widespread in the U.K. Indeed, when the Government asked a research team from Coventry University to study the evidence on conversion therapy the only examples it was able to find were drawn from the U.S. As Mark Jenkinson, the Tory MP for Workington, put it in the Telegraph: “From all the published evidence, it is clear that current laws are sufficient to cover the vanishingly rare number of cases of conversion therapy.”
My concern is that the ‘conversion therapy’ the bill will outlaw will be defined much more widely. At present, that term is too vaguely defined to form the basis of a workable new law, and if it remains devoid of precise, technical meaning – if its meaning can be extended to encompass whatever trans rights activists or militant secularists want it to mean – then any such law will inevitably have a negative effect on free speech.
For instance, would ‘conversion therapy’ include a religious leader telling a member of their congregation that homosexuality is a ‘sin’ or ‘haram’? In the state of Victoria in Australia, which banned conversion therapy in 2021, it is a crime punishable by up to 10 years in jail for a religious leader to have a one-on-one conversation with a member of their congregation in which they pressurise them to practice celibacy rather than act on their feelings of same-sex attraction.
The prospect of the state prohibiting, on pain of imprisonment, what a religious leader is able to say to a member of their faith about what their religion teaches about homosexuality is alarming enough. But even more worrying is the prospect that conversations between parents and children about their gender identity will be caught by the new law.
As Kemi Badenoch, the International Trade Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities, has pointed out, it’s possible that a poorly-drafted bill would bring conversations between parents and their children within scope of the ban, effectively meaning parents who attempted to dissuade their child from undergoing serious and potentially life-changing medical treatments could be prosecuted. In the state of Victoria, it’s a crime for a parent to refuse to support their child’s request for puberty blockers.
A poorly drafted bill could also force medical professionals to rule out treatment that they believe is in the best interests of some of their trans patients – forcing them to break their Hippocratic Oath. Doctors have both a right and a duty to recommend what in their judgement is the best clinical pathway for a patient who identifies as trans, particularly if that patient is a minor.
Consider a condition like gender dysphoria, currently defined by the NHS as “a sense of unease that a person may have because of a mismatch between their biological sex and their gender identity”. For trans activists and ideologically aligned therapists, this is an innate feeling that must simply be ‘affirmed’, with the patient’s problems potentially being solved by helping them to ‘admit’ they’re transgender. Anything less, in their view, would be transphobic and something they would like to fall foul of a conversion therapy ban. Yet for many other medical professionals, research on and around gender identity is still in its infancy, and it cannot be ruled out that in some cases identifying as trans may be symptomatic of a mental disorder – ‘gender dysphoria’ still appears in the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the Bible of the American psychiatric profession.
Nor can it be ruled out that an adolescent who identifies as trans and wants to embark on transitioning is simply being swept along by a trend within their peer group or on social media. That’s one explanation for why you find ‘clusters’ of trans teens within particular schools and why teenage girls are more likely to identify as trans than teenage boys. After all, if the sharp rise in the number of teens identifying as trans is just a result of a taboo being lifted, why aren’t trans teens distributed equally between different schools and why aren’t there the same number of trans boys as trans girls? If trans adolescents who are just following a passing fashion aren’t persuaded to wait before undergoing life-changing medical procedures, such as a double mastectomy, they may come to regret it. Is it really in the best interests of such teenagers to criminalise attempts by parents or clinicians to make them pause and reflect before permanently changing their bodies?
The Government does at least seem alive to these dangers and several ministers have expressed the hope that these risks will be identified and guarded against during pre-legislative scrutiny of the bill. That’s why we think it’s important that as many people as possible write to their MPs to bring these risks to their attention. Use the FSU’s campaigning tool to send a pro forma email – and feel free to personalise it. Filling out the necessary details won’t take more than a couple of minutes.
At the FSU, we seem to be engaged in a constant battle to stop the Government making it illegal for people to speak their minds. But if this bill ends up being anything like the conversion therapy ban in the state of Victoria, it will criminalise advice, both personal and professional, that could help young people avoid making life-changing mistakes.
Profanity and abuse will be removed and may lead to a permanent ban.