Therapy turn-about provokes outrage

The law if you’re gay or bi, but not if you’re trans

Either the law is for all, or it’s not the law. Isn’t that one of the essentials of our democracy? So, the government’s proposed ban on conversion therapy for gay or bisexual people in England and Wales, but not for transgender people, is arguably cruel and prejudiced, and potentially unlawful too.

News of the proposed law change arrived just hours after the government had actually decided to drop plans to introduce a ban and would review ways to stop conversion therapy through existing laws and other measures. But after a furious backlash from both LGBT groups and MPs, there was a swift change of mind and an announcement that legislation would be included in the Queen’s speech – but would not include transgender people.

According to NHS England, conversion therapy, sometimes called “reparative therapy” or “gay cure therapy”, tries to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Practically, it means attempting to stop or suppress someone from being gay, or from identifying as a different gender to their sex recorded at birth. The so-called “therapy” includes prayer and other conversational methods and sometimes more extreme forms like exorcism, physical violence and food deprivation. The NHS, along with other professional bodies, has warned that all forms of conversion therapy are “unethical and potentially harmful”. The proposed legislation will mean that therapy to attempt to change people’s sexuality will be outlawed, but practices carried out to try to change people’s gender identity will not.

The latest announcement has provoked a further fury. Labour MP, Nadia Whittome said the proposal was “still not good enough”, while the Rainbow Project argued that any ban that did not encompass transgender people was “not a real ban”. Jayne Ozanne, chair of the #BanConversionTherapy coalition said it was “utterly ludicrous” that transgender people were not included. But while Health Secretary Sajid Javid believes it “absolutely right” that conversion therapy is banned for lesbian, gay and bisexual people, he thinks a “much more sensitive approach” must be taken towards those who are transgender.

In a Sky TV interview, he mentioned a report by paediatrician Dr Hilary Cass, which references children and young people who say they have gender dysphoria. “It is right for medical experts to be able to question that and to determine what the cause might be”, he said. “Is it a genuine case of gender identity dysphoria or could it be that that individual is suffering from some child sex abuse, for example, or could it be linked to bullying?” Some agree with this approach while others object to any sort of ban. But the Welsh government is also unhappy with the proposals and is seeking legal advice on taking unilateral action. Deputy Minister Hannah Blythyn, who is gay, said the UK government had gone back on its promise that new laws would protect everyone whatever their sexual or gender orientation. And she added, “The LGBTQ community stands as one and none of us are equal while our rights are up for grabs.”

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