Ministers are poised to order a climbdown on a controversial gender conversion law over fears it could inadvertently criminalise parents and teachers.
Following an outcry, they could announce as soon as today that the Government will extend the consultation period on its plans to ban conversion therapy.
The law is designed to outlaw the practice of attempting to ‘convert’ gay children. But under pressure from the transgender rights campaigners, this has been extended to stop therapists trying to help children with gender dysphoria – a mismatch between biological sex and gender identity – to decide whether they really wish to transition.
Campaigners warn that the legislation is so badly drafted that teachers could end up in court if they do not allow children to use opposite sex toilets or let boys play in girls’ sports teams.
Maya Forstater, founder of Sex Matters, said: ‘The Government is seeking to ban all forms of “talking conversion therapy” for under-18s with the intention of changing their gender identity’
The group Sex Matters says parents could fall foul of the law for refusing to use the correct pronoun or for taking children abroad to avoid people pressurising them into transitioning.
Some 2,500 parents, teachers and therapists have written to their MPs via the website of campaign group Sex Matters to protest against the changes.
One wrote: ‘It is not bigoted or phobic to pause and investigate the reasons why a child may report dysphoria.’ A consultation on the new law is due to end on Friday, but the Daily Mail has been told that ministers are now considering extending it to allow more people to have their say. It follows last week’s chaos when an ‘easy read’ of the consultation document had to be removed because it did not accurately reflect the Government’s proposals.
The proposed law is causing concern in Whitehall, with one senior source saying: ‘It is crucial enough voices have time to come forward and express their view of how best to ban conversion therapy. No one wants to see well-intentioned parents, therapists or teachers in the dock for having legitimate pastoral conversations with children about the complex issue of gender identity.’
Protesters gathered in Library Square at Sussex University to rally against Professor Kathleen Stock, who has voiced concern about the lack of free speech on campuses
Maya Forstater, founder of Sex Matters, said: ‘The Government is seeking to ban all forms of “talking conversion therapy” for under-18s with the intention of changing their gender identity.
‘They say this will not include casual conversations, but will include all kinds of counselling. Parents, teachers and therapists are likely to be caught by this.
‘If a child identifies as the opposite sex, any kind of long-term engagement with them to try to get them to feel comfortable as they are, without taking hormones or having surgery, could be considered “talking conversion therapy” under this definition. We have heard from parents who have taken children abroad, on holiday or to visit relatives to get them out of an environment where they have become convinced that there is something wrong with their body.’
In October philosopher Professor Kathleen Stock resigned from her academic post at the University of Sussex after being accused of ‘transphobia’
The proposal for ‘protection orders’ that could see passports taken away would encourage groups advocating on transgender issues to report parents to the police, she said. One parent who wrote to their MP via the Sex Matters website said: ‘There is no comparison between young people discovering their sexuality and young people using hormones and surgery to reject their bodies.
‘Parents like myself who want to support their children not to rush into life changing irreversible decisions about their bodies should not be treated as bigots or transphobes and certainly not as engaging in “conversion therapy”.’
Another parent wrote of their fear that children are too young to understand the implications of transitioning: ‘As an adolescent I would have taken any opportunity to transition from male to female. But I’ve learned to cope with being me (and male) and am proudest in life of my three children.
‘If current proposals on “conversion therapy” are pushed through then a gender-questioning child or young adult might never have the opportunity to think through the lifelong consequences of medical transition.’
Last night a spokesman for the Government’s Equalities Hub declined to comment on a possible extension to the consultation. ‘This government is committed to banning the practice of all coercive conversion therapy in this country and is currently consulting on how this will be done,’ he said.
‘The ban will not impact on the crucial support that teachers and others provide to young people.
‘We are confident our proposals ensure young people will continue to be supported without being encouraged towards one particular path.’
Gender law Q&A
What is the Government planning to do?
Boris Johnson promised to bring in legislation to ban the practice of conversion therapy for gay under-18s. This was an entirely uncontroversial aspect of the plans.
So why has it caused so much controversy?
The proposed Conversion Therapy (Prevention) Bill goes much further than originally thought. The scope of the law has extended, taking in a ban on persuading people against becoming the gender they want to be. The Bill is also set to enshrine the controversial theory of ‘gender identity’ in law for the first time, despite disagreement over what the term means.
Why is this a problem?
Therapists and doctors have warned that it could end legitimate discussions with young people who want hormone treatment. Campaigners say teachers could end up in court for refusing to allow a child to use an opposite-sex changing room. And there are fears parents could also come into the law’s orbit if they do not agree to use their child’s desired pronoun. Some 2,500 people – parents, teachers and therapists – have used a website to write to their MPs to protest against the changes.
Why is the consultation set to be extended?
The Government decided to allow only a six-week consultation on its proposals – half the usual length – in an attempt to get the legislation through quickly. Ministers have also refused to confirm that lawyers will be able to pore over the draft, in a process known as pre- legislative scrutiny. Critics say this means people do not have enough time to respond to the proposals. And last week the Government had to take down an ‘easy read’ guide to the consultation – a short, simplified version of the legislation – from its website after it emerged that it did not accurately reflect its proposals.
Source: Daily Mail UK