Cassie is a transgender woman. At her family’s insistence, she began “treatment” to “cure” her gender identity. Her ‘counsellor’, a member of her faith community, began with talk therapy, encouraging her to sort out why she thought she was not the gender she was born into.
The accusations quickly began: she was mentally ill, broken, she had probably been abused and her parents had abandoned her. As the sessions continued, scriptures were read to her and denunciations of the “transgender lifestyle”.
The consequences were disastrous. Hating her body and believing herself to be possessed by a demon, Cassie began starving herself and self-harming.
Cassie is a survivor of conversion therapy – the abuse inflicted on people across the LGBT+ community that encourages them to believe their sexuality or gender is unhealthy or morally wrong.
She is not alone. While the moral panic about trans people is often about protecting trans children’s access to health care and support, little interest is shown in the well-documented experience of those who are subjected to what is basically torture.
Conversion therapy is not trivial; it has nothing to do with legitimate health services provided by gender identity clinics, and has been rejected by a range of medical professionals. Like other forms of abuse, it is still a harmful practice. While the act itself is evil, forced marriage and physical and sexual violence are often part of it.
Galop’s Recent Searches found that 24% of respondents who had experienced sexual violence had been victimized with the intention of “converting” them. It’s especially acute for trans people, including 35% of trans men and 32% of non-binary people.
Despite the government signaling its intention to ban conversion therapy for gay, lesbian and bisexual people, in a jaw-dropping act of discrimination ministers ruled out the same for trans people – leaving those like Cassie suffer with little recourse to justice.
The absence of conversion therapy should not depend on your identity; the law must protect everyone.
While physical and sexual assault are already illegal, allowing part of the LGBT+ community to pursue conversion therapy fails to close a space in which these forms of violence are prolific. A ban for all would greatly facilitate protection not only from the heinous practice itself, but also from the violence that so frequently accompanies it.
This isn’t the first time the government has failed trans people. The 2020 review of the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) – which addressed the process of obtaining a gender recognition certificate and recognizing it in law – should have been a watershed moment for human rights.
But despite trans participants describing the process as dehumanizing and humiliating, the government concluded that “the balance struck in this legislation is correct” and offered only to lower the application fee and bring it online.
After reneging on GRA reform, the Prime Minister is now making jokes about trans people, suggesting there is something funny about the concept of assigning sex at birth.
Thousands of people, like Cassie, who suffer from gender dysphoria — and relentless abuse and systematic discrimination in public life — aren’t laughing. The same dehumanizing treatment they likely suffered in the playground now blares on their TVs and radios, with interviewers asking childish questions about what genitals you need to be a woman. The grim debate debases all who participate in it, drawing on historical tropes used against many marginalized groups to create sensationalist “moral panic”.
Political and media intimidation has been accompanied by increase in physical attacks, alongside attempts to roll back gains in access to health care. For example, in a radical departure from the Gillick Competency Principle – the same principle that allows under-16s to access prescribed contraception without parental consent – the court recently ruled that trans youth would need a prescription. court to access puberty-blocking drugs.
The Bell v. Tavistock statement asserted that it was impossible for anyone under the age of 16 to provide informed consent for such an upsetting decision. But what could be more upsetting than being trapped – until your death – in a body that is deeply foreign to you?
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Fortunately, the decision was reversed in the Court of Appeal, the judges concluding that it “involved findings of fact which the Divisional Court was unable to make” and that it was based on flawed expert evidence.
Now ministers are adding to the headlines. We need a thorough review of gender identity services that ensures young people are properly cared for, but instead of waiting for the full findings of Hillary Cass’s inquest, Sajid Javid is stoking moral panic , announcing its own review plans and attacking health services as “ideological”.
It’s time to stand up for trans people. Rather than making headlines, we need a serious discussion that seeks to address the discrimination this part of the LGBT+ community faces.
This means cracking down on abuse by quack therapists; provide humane pathways for trans people to gain legal recognition and to access health care and other public services; and end the toxic environment which saw a shocking 84% of young transgender people self-harm, 89% contemplate suicide, and 45% attempt suicide.
This is not a matter of “culture war”; it is about providing human beings with the dignity in life we all deserve and the right to make decisions about who we are and want to be – free from torture and abuse. This right should be fundamental – and for which we all fight.
For the Galop Conversion Therapy helpline call 0800 130 3335
Olivia Blake is the Labor MP for Sheffield Hallam