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Conversion Therapy Bill: delayed in Scotland, banned in England. Is this the end of the matter?

Written in September and originally published in the Scottish Union for Education’s Newsletter October 2023, this article is even more relevant for 2024.


Background/Introduction

Where children or teenagers announce to parents, teachers or any adult that they want to be something other than what they are, for example, the opposite sex, the best response is to listen carefully, treat the discussion seriously, avoid rejecting the child or teenager’s statement, but under no circumstance, affirm the individual’s claim. The chances are that the child or teenager’s statement is a red flag signaling that other concerns and issues need to be addressed; anxiety issues perhaps; or trauma(s); autism; care issues; or perhaps some or all of these. This is where psychological assessment and intervention including the possibility of therapeutic support should be considered.

When kids say they are ‘trans’, why on earth would a responsible adult necessarily agree with them? Agreeing with a child who says he/she is something other than what he/she is, for example: a pirate, Superman etc is participating in a fantasy. That can be ok as long as everyone, including the child, understands that any agreement in a fantasy is only for that moment in time. In essence, it’s imaginative play which is a healthy part of child development. However, where a fantasy is claimed as reality, that is a very different matter indeed. Where an adult affirms a child or teenager’s fantasy, this facilitates a deluded belief. It is deeply misleading and misinformed for an adult to do this. This type of affirmative behavior on the part of an adult is a recipe for facilitating the development of severe future psychological problems. Our job as parents and professionals is to help any child become more accepting of who they already are. This is especially important with regard to the reality of our biological bodies. Children need to know from the day they are born what their sex is, and that it cannot be changed. Children need clear and supportive messaging from the adults around them that they are accepted as the sex they were identified as at birth whether they conform to gender stereotypes or not. Therapy and psychological support is likely to be helpful and even necessary for gender questioning children, teenagers and adults, especially when they have experienced difficulties in their psychological and emotional development such as trauma, care issues and other challenges such as autism and ADHD.

Background on Conversion Therapy Bill in Scotland

The Bill in Scotland included a ban on attempts to dissuade a child from declaring themselves as ‘trans’ and stating that they wished to change sex. In 2022, the so-called ‘expert’ Equality Committee, (made up largely of activists) advised Scottish Government ministers that any alternative approach seeking to explore possible causes of children and teenagers identifying as ‘trans’ was conversion therapy and should be banned. There were recommendations too for removing children from the care of their parents who did not support their children being called ‘trans’. It is hard to credit that this was written in a so-called democratic society by a so-called ‘Equality Committee’ and accepted as credible by a so-called ‘progressive’ and well-informed government. Such recommendations are conflating conversion therapy, as previously used to persecute gay individuals, with appropriate and helpful support of gender questioning children and teenagers who, in most cases, will have mental health issues. Teenagers have always wanted to experiment with their identity: to be goths, punks, hippies, gender benders and so on. This was always fine and part of growing up. However, in the current context, far too many institutions and public services including schools have embraced the new ‘flat earth’ belief which says that any individual can choose to be the opposite sex if they wish and that it is important to affirm this wish. This is not only daft but dangerous.

Conversion therapy A brief history

Conversion therapy, is now very ill-defined and has taken on several different meanings.The term was used to describe a range of medical and psychotherapeutic interventions which were offered to gay men and women in the 1950s. These were focused more on aversion than conversion. Therapists aimed to disrupt association between same-sex sexual stimuli and sexual responses. For example, electric shocks and medically induced vomiting were part of the treatment. Over approximately the next twenty years, therapists attempted to re-orientate people’s sexuality towards heterosexual stimuli via a range of ‘therapies’ including: religious counselling, talking therapies, and hormonal treatments. These attempts to either avert homosexuality or convert lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) people to heterosexuality did not work.

In the 1980s, previous unethical treatments attempting to convert gay and lesbian people gave rise to affirmative practice ‘gay affirming therapy’ was developed as a form of reparative therapy, where the clinician demonstrated acceptance of the client’s non-heterosexual identity as a means of reducing negative societal reactions. By 2015, societal norms had shifted significantly resulting in the first Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on Conversion Therapy which was signed by sixteen organisations. In this MOU, the signatories agreed that it was unethical for a therapist to try to change someone’s sexual orientation. But just two years later, a second memorandum expanded the definition of conversion therapy to include any, ‘therapeutic approach, ….. that demonstrates an assumption that any sexual orientation or gender identity is inherently preferable to any other’. The inclusion of ‘gender identity’ in the MOU2, signified a major shift, resulting in the term ‘affirmative care’. Gender ideology had piggy- backed on an historic gay rights issue and changed what society meant and understood by the term ‘conversion therapy’ while ‘affirmative care’ morphed into ‘medical affirmation' including chemical and surgical treatment.

This has resulted in a situation of total confusion where therapists could run the risk of being accused of conversion therapy when all they are attempting to do is identify the causes of an individual’s distress and support that individual to manage them. Trans activists and sympathizers would have us believe that the only support that is appropriate is affirmative support and the likely follow-on to medicalization including hormone treatment and surgery. But where does that leave support and challenge when an individual has faulty or delusional ideas? And where does that leave children and troubled and confused adults?

Given it has been delayed, is the Bill banning conversion therapy no longer an issue?

The Bill has not been included in the Scottish Governments’s programme for government for this year. Instead a consultation process will occur next year in 2024 with a report to follow. Westminster has gone further and announced that the Bill is now banned. Regarding these new developments Helen Joyce stated:

‘Whenever the Scottish Government talks about “conversion therapy”, it conflates two quite different things. The first is the historic abuse of gay people in an attempt to turn them straight – which is already illegal and has not happened in any healthcare setting for decades.The second is careful, ethical treatment for gender distress, which can have many causes and which often resolves. Trans activists want this best practice outlawed, with gender-distressed children blindly ‘affirmed’ in an identity that would otherwise likely be a passing phase…..Delaying this harmful and unnecessary bill can only be a good thing.’

Such a sensible summary from Joyce begs the question: how can those individuals at the highest levels of society, with the most power, be so easily confused and misled? When the issue is assessed historically, it is clear that by misusing what was once a gay rights issue, the trans lobby has made a spurious claim about a treatment method that no longer applies. It is simply ridiculous that our politicians got as far as drafting a Bill for parliament. Activist organisations have had far too much influence on politicians, civil servants and government policy makers. Repeatedly they have acted to mislead and to be impecunious with the truth while other expert voices have not been heeded. The Conversion Therapy and GRRB Bills were not mistakes. They were willful attempts to take Scotland down a gender ideological path driven by activists who have little knowledge and expertise of child development, education, psychology or women’s issues. The only reason the Conversion Therapy Bill has been delayed is a politically expedient one involving the self-preservation of those in power. It is likely that gender ideology activists have other moves planned. There are real risks that our political masters will behave similarly to what we have experienced already. We must remain vigilant, and continue to scrutinize and challenge our politicians, policy makers and institutions and hold them to account.

References

Joyce, H. in Dan Martin article, SNP delays ban on conversion therapy, 13th September 2023, Telegraph

Professional Standards Authority (27th Sept 2022) Memorandum of Understanding on conversion therapy and welcomes the inclusion of gender identity. www.professionalstandards.org.uk

Author: Carolyn Brown (retired depute principal educational psychologist)

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