Transgender Conversion Therapy

Alicia Kearns Excerpts
Monday 13th June 2022

(1 year, 11 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Alicia Kearns Portrait Alicia Kearns (Rutland and Melton) (Con)
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Thank you for calling me to speak so early, Sir Graham. I rise to speak with a heavy heart, because I do not think we should be here. This issue is not something we should have to debate. I am furious, but my fury is nothing compared to the deep-set harm that this announcement has already caused to the transgender community, which has been harmed by us saying that trans people do not deserve the same rights and protections as their LGB brothers and sisters. Shamefully, the entire ban was almost cancelled; were it not for the actions of Conservative Back Benchers to ensure the ban was protected, it would have been.

The entire manner of the debate should shame us all. We need more compassion on all sides—there should not be any sides in this issue. So much of this debate has been misrepresentative and bears no relation to the reality of what such a ban would do. The ban is about preventing those who use so-called therapy as a smokescreen for their homophobic and transphobic exorcisms, and who claim that LGBTQ+ people do not deserve to love, be loved or live their life as they truly are.

Today, rather than explaining why we need an inclusive ban, I want to focus on the claim that any ban on conversion therapy would allow for only one form of therapy: the so-called affirmative model. It is usually accompanied by the claim that the ban on trans conversion therapy is designed specifically to push so-called gender ideology. I would like to know how the groups making such claims have seen the legislation, because I know that no Members present have. The Minister probably has not either, because it has not been drafted.

Conversion therapy often takes the form of one-directional talking therapies conducted by quacks in unregulated settings. There can be only one outcome for someone from such therapy: rejecting their trans self. Regulated psychotherapists and those from similar professions have always insisted that exploratory therapy should have no set outcome, but that outcome is what conversion therapy produces. What our children—indeed, trans people of any age—deserve and need is fully explorative and challenging conversations with accredited and regulated individuals who adhere to ethical tests, are regulated and would not push any pre-determined outcome. A regulated therapist would never say that someone must act on their attractions or feelings, or that they must eliminate them, and surely no one here can disagree with that.

Some claim that gay and lesbian people are being forced to convert to being transgender. There are always isolated cases—we can never say never—but let us not suggest that this is some widespread conspiracy. Even if someone did ascribe to such a belief, the legislation could help them, because it would ensure that the critical conversations took place with professionals, not the well-meaning.

Let us take on the claim, mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn), that a ban on CT would criminalise health practitioners. If it would, why do the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the British Psychological Society, the Albany Trust, the British Medical Association, Mind, Relate, the Royal College of General Practitioners, the Association of Christian Counsellors and many more stand behind a ban? The psychiatric and psychological professions reject conversion therapy because it is the opposite of open-ended exploration; it is a therapy with only one stopping point. It is not about keeping choices, but eliminating them entirely, and that is why mental health practitioners back the legislation. It will not criminalise them, or teachers, or parents who want to have conversations with their children. I know that, because I have worked since my election to secure a ban on conversion therapy. I came to this place saying that I would help deliver one.

The discussions have been methodical, serious and cautious. Licensed bodies want to get this right, and to have serious safeguards in place. Given that search for safeguards, I want to make it abundantly clear that psychological professionals have been clear and unequivocal that trans conversion therapy is a definable concept. They might have different views about many others things, but they are agreed on that.

The Cass review, which many cite as a reason to exclude transgender people from a ban, is unequivocal. It calls for expanded support for trans healthcare and better service provision. Hilary Cass has said that her work does not impede the bringing forward of a conversion therapy Bill that includes trans people, and that any Bill does not need to wait until the end of her work, so why is her work being appropriated in arguments against a ban? Her work is well under way.

I wish to clear up some misunderstandings about the Bill, and I am sorry that I will slightly run over. Despite how hard others are pushing to misrepresent it, the ban is not about transgender people in sport or prisons, any medical interventions or procedures, or gender-neutral toilets. The Government do not propose that the ban defines gender identity in legislation; they note that we already have the Gender Recognition Act 2004, and hate crime legislation that acknowledges transgender people. Nor are LGBT community groups asking for gender identity to be defined or introduced in law, so why are so-called lobbying organisations saying that we are trying to do that?

I want to make it very clear that an inclusive ban on conversion therapy is not some woke frontier for those who want to suppress freedom of speech. It is not some new frontier for politicians to weaponise in a culture war that they think is vote winning. My standing up for my rights—I hope that colleagues would agree that I have fought for the rights of women since I came to this place—is not incompatible with fighting for the rights of others. Women are people with cervixes. We are women. I do not chest-feed; I breastfeed my baby. Of course biology matters, but these positions are not at war with one another.

If we can come together, we can find mutual understanding. This is not a back-door effort to have a battle about rights, or to criminalise dissent from gender ideology. It is about punishing practices that leave real and enduring psychological scars, and about holding to account those who cause the misery. The only people who should fear the ban are those quacks and charlatans who profit from bigotry and torture, and who believe that their views are so superior to others’.

Let us protect our children and leave the professionals to do their jobs. Let us include transgender people in the ban, in order to protect them 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. I will not stand for a ban that devalues my transgender friends, and I will amend the legislation if, when it comes forward, it does not include trans people. I will not stand for the division of the LGBT community—division that would give bigots a green light to continue torturing our trans friends. I call on the Government to do what is right and bring forward the work on transgender rights and inclusion in the Bill that they have promised. I ask them to stand by trans people, and give protections to those who urgently need them.

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Alyn Smith Portrait Alyn Smith
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I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s intervention. I am a solicitor, if we go back far enough. The law is well used to dealing with shades of grey. In many other situations—aggravated hate crime; discrimination; words that mean one thing in one context and a different thing in another—it is perfectly possible to come up with a proper legislative framework to protect people and the honest conversations that he is rightly concerned to see protected. I share that concern and would work with him on it.

Alicia Kearns Portrait Alicia Kearns
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The hon. Gentleman will correct me if I am wrong, but on the point about waiting to see, there is currently a wait of at least two years to have those conversations with a professional, so there is no rushing into this. I may be wrong, but someone cannot have surgery if they are under 18, and they cannot get access to puberty blockers for at least a couple of years. I may be misunderstanding the timeline; if so, he will advise me.

Alyn Smith Portrait Alyn Smith
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The hon. Lady makes a powerful and apposite point. On saying, “Just wait,” well, people are waiting, including all the legislators in this Chamber—we have waited far too long to act, and too many people are suffering. The concerns that are raised need to be dealt with and respectfully discussed, but to my mind there is a clear need to act. Too many people are suffering. We have a duty as legislators to keep our citizens safe from harm. Let us act together. Let us work together to keep safe the people whom we need to protect.

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Jackie Doyle-Price Portrait Jackie Doyle-Price (Thurrock) (Con)
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Thank you, Sir Graham. It is a pleasure to contribute to the debate. As legislators, our starting point must be to eradicate harms, but in doing so we must not create new ones. It is in that spirit that I will address the proposals in—well, we do not have a Bill yet, so we are flying a bit blind.

My concern is the use of the term “therapy” in this space, which has been discussed. We are talking about coercive and harmful practices based on an ideological opposition to being trans, gay, lesbian or bisexual, and those are the practices that we need to eradicate. The term “therapy” implies something that is benign and designed to alleviate distress, which is clearly not something we want to outlaw in this space—for sexuality as well as gender. My plea to the Government is to re-examine that language.

In respect of transgender identity, when an individual wishes to undergo medical transition or surgical intervention, a therapeutic pathway is essential to establish informed consent. We must not allow any law to be passed that would get in the way of those conversations and clinical interventions, which are designed to alleviate distress.

Alicia Kearns Portrait Alicia Kearns
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In the spirit of the point that I made in my speech that there are no two sides, I agree with my hon. Friend entirely. I suspect that she will find much unanimity in the Chamber that a ban should be about conversion practices. I am sure that the Minister, who campaigned for a ban for many years before he became a Minister, will be well aware of that and will be doing everything he can to ensure that the right Bill comes forward. I agree with my hon. Friend entirely, and I am sure others in the Chamber do as well.

Jackie Doyle-Price Portrait Jackie Doyle-Price
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I am grateful for that intervention. Indeed, although I have been outspoken on these issues, I have had this conversation with Jayne Ozanne, who shares this view. In terms of getting to a good law, I make this plea to everyone: we have heard lots of rhetoric today, but if we focus on creating a law that eradicates harm but gives support where it is needed, I think we can generate consensus. Notwithstanding the heat and noise on social media, there is much consensus in the Chamber.

I come to this matter having been the mental health Minister, with responsibility for gender medicine, when the General Synod of the Church of England passed the motion in favour of a conversion therapy ban. It is worth remembering that at that stage it was only about sexuality, and not about gender, which was added subsequently. At the time, however, I made it my business to look into exactly what the evidence was on the practices that we were trying outlaw.

Notwithstanding some of the experiences we have heard about, I could find no evidence of anything happening in a clinical setting after 1970. It became very clear that we were talking about practices that were often based in religious institutions, and very much based on an ideological belief against same-sex attraction and transgender. That is why we need to hammer down on outlawing exactly those things. That is the harm that we are trying to eradicate.

We have ended up with this vanilla term, “therapy”, for fear of alienating those people for whom these are issues of religious belief. Frankly, the risk of outlawing legitimate interventions should not get in the way of that. We need to be clear about what we are banning and that any therapeutic intervention designed to alleviate distress will not be eradicated by the legislation. I look forward to hearing words of comfort from my hon. Friend the Minister, with whom I have had many discussions about these things.

It is also worth noting that the term “trans” can mean any number of things, from declaring oneself non-binary to wanting to go the whole journey of medical and surgical transition. This is where the therapeutic care pathways are so important, because for some people gender dysphoria is a permanent condition that needs to be alleviated with treatment, but for others it can be a symptom of something else. This is not a straightforward condition that has the same pathology in all the people who experience it. We know that it is prevalent among people with autism and that it is very commonly experienced by girls going through puberty.