The conversion therapy consultation period has been extended by the Government by eight weeks after the campaigning organisation Fair Play For Women threatened legal action and reports suggested officials were “shocked” by the responses so far and had not anticipated how “sensitive and complex” the issues were around gender identity.
Liz Truss, the Minister for Women and Equalities, announced on Twitter on Thursday morning that the consultation period would be extended. Ms Truss said: “The consultation on our proposals has been extended by eight weeks, to ensure anyone who has not yet responded has the opportunity to do so.”
The decision to extend the consultation’s closing date to Friday 4th February 2022 followed a legal threat by Fair Play For Women to launch a judicial review if the deadline for public responses was not extended.
Two autistic women joined Fair Play For Women as co-claimants threatening legal action accusing the Government of breaking disability discrimination laws.
An ‘Easy Read’ document – designed to enable people with learning difficulties to access the consultation – was published four weeks late and then rapidly withdrawn the same day leaving only a week to respond before the consultation was due to close today, Friday 10th December.
Dr Nicola Williams, Director of Fair Play For Women, said: “We are pleased the Government has agreed to publish an Easy Read format and significantly extend the deadline for everyone. Without this concession many people would not have had their views heard, and an important group they needed to hear from – autistic young people and their parents – would have been excluded.”
Increasing numbers of children, mostly adolescent girls, are coming out as transgender and convinced they are ‘born in the wrong body’. Around a third of these children are autistic, said Fair Play For Women.
Jane, one of the autistic women involved in the legal action, said: “As an autistic adult, I have first-hand experience of the sort of processing difficulties that can make navigating complex paperwork extremely difficult and time-consuming. Given the significant crossover between autism and gender dysphoria, the lack of an Easy Read version will have the effect of excluding many who would wish to engage in the process”.
An Easy Read document was finally published by the Government on Thursday this week.
Last week there was a growing backlash against the conversion therapy plans by Conservative MPs and peers and today the Daily Telegraph reported that officials were “shocked” by the responses to the consultation and had not anticipated how “sensitive and complex” the issues were, particularly around gender identity.
“The Government must extend the consultation period and commit to pre-legislative scrutiny so that this can be thought through properly, rather than simply following Stonewall’s line.”
Baroness Jenkin, the Tory peer who founded Women2Win, the Conservative women’s organisation, with Theresa May, said: “Legislation must not make parents, children, teachers and clinicians frightened to talk to each other.” Theresa May launched steps to ban conversion therapy back in 2018.
Tim Loughton MP, a former children’s minister, said: “This legislation risks trampling over the vulnerabilities of children, many of whom are entering into drug treatments that are life-changing and can also make them sterile.”
Damian Green MP, the former first secretary of state, added: “The Government must extend the consultation period and commit to pre-legislative scrutiny so that this can be thought through properly, rather than simply following Stonewall’s line.”
A former head of legislative affairs at No 10 Downing Street, Nikki da Costa, also called for the consultation to be extended and warned that the Government “must slow down” because the changes could have “damaging consequences for children”.
“These issues are so complex and sensitive, you’d be forgiven for thinking the Government will approach the drafting of the legislation with care,” said Ms da Costa. “That it would wait for the NHS’s Cass Review, which will set out a definition of good care for children with gender dysphoria. Yet the opposite is true.
“How do you define in law ‘questioning’? Is it compatible with a firm assertion ‘I am trans’? How does the Government take into account the risk of a chilling effect, where legitimate clinicians withdraw from providing support because they do not want to risk being dragged through the courts?”
“Lobby groups will also seek to amend the Bill to achieve other objectives. These could include lowering the age for cross-sex hormones and making puberty blocking drugs more readily available. If the Bill offers a definition of being transgender, alternative, more expansive, definitions could be proposed, potentially with the intention of amending the Equality Act, or the Gender Recognition Act,” Ms da Costa added.
Dr Nicola Williams from Fair Play For Women
Dr Williams from Fair Play For Women accused the Government of “rushing” the Bill through ahead of the “Safe To Be Me” LGBT conference it is hosting next year.
“The Government has been rushing to get this Bill into law before an LGBT conference it’s hosting next year. Rushing legislation means mistakes get made. This law is complex, controversial and could harm children if they get it wrong. It is too important to be rushed.
“We hope this gives officials time to slow down and reflect more widely on the law-making process. They must now take time to consider the public’s views and commit to undertaking proper pre-legislative scrutiny before any Bill reaches parliament.”
In the original “Ministerial Foreword” to the Government’s consultation document Ms Truss referenced the “Safe To Be Me” conference: “The Government is proud to champion equality for LGBT people everywhere and I look forward to hosting ‘Safe To Be Me: A Global Equality Conference’, which will take place in June 2022, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the first official London Pride marches.”
However there is growing controversy about the conference as the LGB Alliance, the campaigning group for lesbian, gay and bisexual people based on sex-based rights, has not been invited. This week barrister Allison Bailey, who is suing Stonewall and her chambers in an employment tribunal, wrote: “Next spring’s Government backed LGBTQ global conference will be an embarrassment. LGB Alliance is currently not invited. The protections that same-sex people enjoy under the Equality Act 2010 are being ignored by <checks notes> the Government, but it’s OK, ‘queers’ are invited.”
Announcing the extension of the consultation Ms Truss reconfirmed her commitment to a ban on conversion therapy “whilst protecting free speech as well as protecting under-18s from being channelled into a irreversible decisions about their future”. The Minister for Women and Equalities said: “We are absolutely determined to stamp out conversion therapy, and want to hear all views on the best ways to do that.”
Minister for Equalities Mike Freer said: “We have listened and we have acted, to ensure that the full range of opinions are represented, and that everyone who wants to has a chance to comment on our proposals. The focus for the ban will be on those who actively seek to change someone’s sexuality or transgender status, with protection for young people a particular priority.
Mike Freer, Minister for Equalities
“We have already consulted extensively with faith leaders, clinicians, LGBT stakeholders, and other stakeholder groups, and I am confident that our proposals strike the correct balance to stamp out coercive conversion therapy, whilst protecting free speech.
“I urge everyone who has not yet done so to make their views known, so we can work together to stamp out this abhorrent practice for good.”
However Nancy Kelley, chief executive of the mostly trans rights supporting charity Stonewall complained about the consultation’s extension: “Every delay to this ban leaves LGBTQ+ people at risk of lifelong harm. Now the UK Government must confirm that this necessary extension will not delay their plans to bring forward a Bill in spring 2022.”
James Esses, the co-founder of the group Thoughtful Therapists, a group of professionals which have raised concerns on the impact on their treatment, welcomed the extension.
“This is an extremely sensitive and complex piece of legislation, with significant implications for mental health treatment for vulnerable children. It deserves due care and attention,” he said.
“If the Government unintentionally bans any therapy which falls short of affirmation of transitioning, it may lead to more suffering, especially when studies show that the vast majority of children with gender dysphoria will eventually settle into their biological sex and bodies.”
The original consultation period had been due to end today (Friday 10th December), with legislation planned to be introduced in a Bill by spring 2022. The Government has confirmed that the deadline for responding to the consultation has now been extended to Friday 4 February 2022 at 11:45pm. The Government’s Equalities Office said it is not necessary for those who have already responded to re-submit their responses.
Top photo: Imageplotter/Alamy Stock Photo