Government vows to uphold free speech in transgender treatment debate

The Government has vowed to uphold free speech in the transgender treatment debate as it suggested children should be protected from medicalisation.

Responding to concerns that a ban on conversion therapy will criminalise professionals treating children with gender dysphoria, officials have given assurances that they will protect under 18s from "irreversible decisions".

The Government Equalities Office vowed to safeguard young people "from inappropriate interventions and uphold the independence of clinicians".

The comments came in response to a petition started by the Thoughtful Therapists, a group of mental health professionals, which warned that the ban on conversion therapy for LGBT people, promised in the Queen’s Speech, could outlaw much needed treatment.

They called on ministers "not to criminalise essential, explorative therapy" and warned that there had been a "worrying number of young people de-transitioning and regretting medical treatment".

After the petition reached 10,000 signatures, the Government Equalities Office responded and said that they would ensure the ban on the "abhorrent practice" of conversion therapy does not have “unintended consequences”.

"We will protect free speech, uphold the individual freedoms we all hold dear and protect under-18s from irreversible decisions", the department promised.

"We will ensure parents, teachers and medical professionals are able to safeguard young people from inappropriate interventions and are clear that this ban must not impact on the independence and confidence of clinicians to support those who may be experiencing gender dysphoria."

They will be holding a consultation to work out the specifics of the new law in the coming months.

But there are fears that even if clinicians are protected under the ban, their work could be impacted by a memorandum of understanding on conversion therapy which has been signed by all the major health, counselling and psychotherapy organisations in the UK.  

Little is known about the Coalition Against Conversion Therapy, which is the steering group for the memorandum, and it has not been revealed whether the document, which is due for review this month, will be looked at again.

The current 2017 document, which included "gender identity" in the definition of conversion therapy for the first time, was written with support of the controversial LGBT charity Stonewall.

The guidelines have widely been interpreted as proposing an affirmative approach and have led to psychotherapists saying that they avoid questioning children as young as six who come to them claiming they wanted to transition.

The Thoughtful Therapists have attempted to contact the signatories – including the NHS, the Royal College of GPs and the UK Council for Psychotherapy – asking to discuss the guidelines as they govern their work with a "vulnerable group of young people with many unknowns and an extremely poor evidence base for significant medical interventions".

But they have not received a response from any of the members after Dr Igi Moon, chairman of the memorandum and the lead on the document for the British Psychological Society, asked her colleagues “not respond” to the email chain.

Dr Moon, who uses the pronouns they/them and is involved in trans activism, describes those with gender critical views as "terfs", commonly defined as a feminist who excludes the rights of transgender women from their advocacy of women’s rights, and says that binary gender is inherited "from colonialism".

In one debate Trans Liberation: What are our demands?, organised by Momentum activists, Dr Moon demanded that more hormones are made available and that GPs offer bridging hormones to those awaiting treatment.

Telling campaigners to lobby the Government, they said that there are "thousands of people who are not receiving treatment" and if it was any other condition that was "killing people" it would be getting more attention because "as we can see from Coronavirus, there are ways to fund health care".

Dr Moon added: "I am not prepared to stand back and watch my community die. It’s not going to happen, not again." 

A spokesman for Thoughtful Therapists said that they are concerned as the document "seemingly mandates an affirmation-only approach to working with gender dysphoria".

They added: "We are particularly concerned with the lack of transparency by the Coalition governing the document and its chairman Dr Igi Moon, who on numerous occasions has refused to engage with our professional concerns regarding treatment for gender dysphoria and has instructed signatory organisations not to speak to us. For such an important clinical issue, this stonewalling is shocking."

Dr Moon and the British Psychological Society failed to respond to a request for comment.

NHS England last night argued that the memorandum "explicitly says it does not stop therapists from exploring with patients their uncertain feelings around gender identity".

They refused to answer questions on whether consideration was given to Dr Moon’s impartiality before she was chosen to chair the group.

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