Joanna Williams Joanna Williams

Labour’s ‘trans inclusive’ conversion therapy ban will be a disaster

Keir Starmer on a London Pride march (Credit: Getty Images)

Keir Starmer has a reputation for changing his mind. But on one issue at least, the Labour leader remains worryingly consistent. Addressing an LGBT+ Labour meeting in Parliament this week, Starmer declared, ‘Labour governments and the LGBT+ movement have a history of achieving incredible things together.’ His own contribution to this long march of progress has already been determined. Starmer yet again pledged that a Labour government will outlaw all forms of conversion therapy.

Sir Keir is adamant that, on his watch, a conversion therapy ban will be ‘trans inclusive’. In other words, it won’t just outlaw attempts to turn homosexuals straight but, crucially, it will most likely make it illegal to try and change someone’s gender identity. Under a Labour government, facts be damned. If a man thinks he is a woman, it will be against the law to try and persuade him otherwise.

There is no evidence that gay people are being routinely subjected to conversion therapy

This trans-inclusivity matters to the Labour party because without it, there’s little to justify calls for a ban on conversion therapy. The days of chemical castration and electro-shock therapy are, thankfully, long gone. A handful of unhappy adults might seek out a vicar to pray with them, but there is no evidence that gay people are being routinely subjected to conversion therapy.

If it doesn’t include transgender people, Starmer’s proposed ban is pointless. But even here, evidence of coercive practice is scant. The latest government commissioned research into the scale of conversion therapy included only six trans or ‘nonbinary’ people who said they had been offered conversion therapy in the past three decades. Such small numbers suggest this is hardly a crisis. Starmer’s trans-inclusive conversion therapy ban might then be less about reality and more about sending a message, but it should trouble us nonetheless.

The line between ‘conversion therapy’ and plain old ‘therapy’ is vanishingly thin while the consequences of transitioning are monumental. Take two young adults. One has a relationship with someone of the same sex before changing her mind and deciding she is boringly straight after all. She goes on to get married and have children. Her youthful experimentation is nothing more than a happy memory.

The second woman thinks she might actually be a man. She socially transitions, changing her name and pronouns. She goes on to take cross-sex hormones and has surgery to remove her breasts. At this point, still unhappy, she decides to detransition. But the physical changes to her body are irreversible. She faces potential infertility, permanent scarring and lifelong changes to her voice and appearance.

No humane society should let someone put themselves through this without first making sure they are fully aware of the consequences. It might not be what a transgender person wants to hear, but it is necessary to point out that no amount of hormones or surgery can actually change a person’s sex. And, in some instances, advising against medical transition might be the best course of action. Yet for Sir Keir, these conversations, far from being compassionate, are ‘psychologically damaging abuse’.

His proposed ‘full, trans-inclusive ban on all forms of conversion therapy’ is particularly concerning for children. There has been a shocking rise in the number of children, particularly teenage girls, who claim to be transgender. Their first recourse is most likely parents or teachers; informal conversations often determine what happens next. Loving reassurance that the best thing is to wait and see gives children time to grow up and potentially change their minds. Yet banning conversion therapy casts a glare of suspicion over such reassurances. Rather than responding from the heart, parents and teachers will worry about being criminalised. A trans-inclusive conversion therapy ban threatens the intimacy of family relationships.

Many gender-confused children grow up to be happily homosexual. Ironically, a future ban on conversion therapy could send these youngsters headlong down a path to medical interventions that will ‘trans away the gay’. The most gruesome forms of medical conversion therapy might have had their day. But, under a future Labour government, young lesbians will be able to get their breasts cut off and become straight trans men while gay men can be transformed into hormone-pumped trans women. This is conversion therapy on steroids. Or, more accurately, on testosterone.

Labour’s allegiance to the rainbow flag means the party will plough on with banning conversion therapy despite the risk such legislation poses to vulnerable children. In his speech to LGBT+ Labour, Starmer also announced plans for tougher hate crime legislation and a promise to ‘modernise the Gender Recognition Act’.

Sir Keir’s flip flopping eventually brought him to a place where he can say that 99.9 per cent of women do not have a penis. But, it seems, this insight will do nothing to stop Labour making it easier for gender-confused children to be pushed towards medication and surgery and for men to enter women’s spaces. For the sake of family life, children’s health, lesbian and gay rights and women’s safety, it is vital Starmer’s conversion therapy plans are thwarted long before he gains the keys to 10 Downing Street.

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