Daniel Gilbert: Banning Conversion Therapy will be a landmark Conservative achievement

25 Feb

Cllr Daniel Gilbert is a councillor in Milton Keynes and former Special Adviser in the Department for Business.

I was surprised to read a contribution in Conservative Home a week ago describing the proposed conversion therapy ban as “homophobic”. If this is homophobia, then I must need a new pair of glasses.

As far as I could make out, the piece by Gary Powell considers the Government’s proposals to be anti-gay because they protect transgender identity in opposition to lesbian and gay identities. Apparently, the Bill risks tempting gay people into a life of “bogus heterosexuality” by removing the option of therapy and thereby leading them down a path to gender reassignment. As he puts it, “I’m not gay: I’m a girl in a boy’s body”. It’s as if Powell foresees an army of pro-gay conversion therapists encouraging young men and women to come out the closet rather than assert a different gender. As if this contorted logic wasn’t ridiculous enough, he then compares a young person questioning their gender as being tantamount to a young person suffering from the disease of anorexia.

I’m not interested in cancel culture. Have your say by all means. But let’s subject these claims to challenge.

I would be interested to see any research on the number of young people incorrectly forced to change gender versus the number of gay people exposed to actual or attempted conversion therapy. I doubt the numbers stack up. In any event, it is a bizarre divide-and-conquer tactic to deploy gay rights against trans rights. Then we get the dog-whistle: the fears about scores of children being prescribed “puberty blockers” as a reason to oppose the ban. This is just intended to divert attention from the real problem the Government is seeking to address.

Here’s a reality check: the Bill is not about the treatment of gender dysphoria on the NHS. It’s about the regulation of potentially abusive power by those in authority operating behind closed doors.

Powell then goes on to describe a Conversion Therapy Bill as “completely unnecessary” because “adequate laws to protect lesbian and gay young people from homophobic abuse and discrimination already exist”. This is an entirely separate point. The case made forcefully by Liz Truss, the Bill’s sponsor minister, is that so-called conversion therapy is a separate and distinct activity that is not captured by current legislation and so ought to be outlawed.

By its very nature, conversion therapy is a covert activity, and so it is hard to determine its prevalence. The Government consultation cites the National LGBT Survey 2017, which found that five per cent of respondents had been offered conversion or reparative therapy “in an attempt to cure them of being LGBT”, and a further two per cent said they had undergone it. Even if the incidence is relatively low, this should not be a reason to overlook the crime.

The phrase conversion “therapy” lends a clinical feel to what is an otherwise abusive process. Men and women are sent to secretive bible seminars, preached at, cut off from opposing arguments, shamed into believing they are broken, deceived into believing they can be fixed. They are threatened implicitly or explicitly with exclusion from the religious community. Some may be encouraged to marry a person of the opposite sex and have a family, with the inevitable emotional consequences this causes down the road.

I am proud to live in a progressive and accepting country. But the ideals of a liberal and tolerant Britain should be open to everyone. For the avoidance of doubt, this abuse does not take place in some exotic faraway location but in British towns and cities, carried by people that you might otherwise consider to be educated fellow citizens. This is not therapy, it’s abuse. It’s not pro-family, it’s anti-family. We can ban it just as we can ban incitement to religious hatred.

That said, I do see weaknesses in the proposals. The Bill will require careful scrutiny. There is a difficult balance to strike between protecting individuals from abuse and protecting freedom of speech. As the consultation says, “We do not intend to ban adults from seeking such counselling freely, but consent requirements will be robust and stringent.” How robust and stringent these requirements are remains to be seen, given the secretive way in which such counselling operates. Many a victim may yet fall through a loophole.

While the Government’s proposals can’t undo the damage of Section 28, the ban and its associated measures will go a long way to cementing our party’s reputation as the standard-bearers for individual liberty, building on the equal marriage legislation during the Cameron years. As a party that believes in personal freedom, takes pride in the blessings of Western liberal democracy, and believes in protecting the freedom of the individual against the totalitarian group-think of these closed-off communities, then surely this ban is right.

Stewart Jackson: Why is a Tory Government risking criminalising professionals – and the health of young people too?

21 Feb

Stewart Jackson is a former Conservative MP and Special Adviser, and is the Founder and Director of UK Political Insight.

Given the precarious position that the Prime Minister finds himself in, one has to rank the Government’s commitment to legislate for the so-called Conversion Therapy Bill “in spring 2022” as particularly brave, foolhardy or tin-eared.

The need to engineer a rapprochement with the Conservative Parliamentary Party is inconsistent with such a divisive and unnecessary measure.

It appears to be driven by a desire to placate the shrill zealotry of Stonewall – now discredited by its absolutist stance on trans rights, and estranged from many former LGBT supporters with whom, along with other critics, it seems unwilling to engage.

Indeed, the Bill seems to be a solution looking for a problem. In a meeting with religious leaders, the Government Equalities Office, which is sponsoring the Bill, failed even to identify what the legal definition of “conversion therapy” actually is, according to one of those present.

Those advocating the changes are desperate to avoid scrutiny and rush through the legislation. Nonetheless, the Government extended the consultation on the Bill until earlier this month after threats of judicial review.  It takes a unique talent to unite the fractious Tory tribes against these proposals.

Those concerned by aspects of the Bill reportedly include Damian Green, Chairman of the Conservative One Nation Group; other former Ministers, such as Jackie Doyle-Price; such middle ground stalwarts as Pauline Latham and Sir Robert Syms; and social conservatives such as Miriam Cates, Sally-Ann Hart, and Tim Loughton. Not to mention peers, faith groups, charities, the Economist and, most recently, the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

The ECHR has rightly highlighted  the need for proper pre-legislative scrutiny, and has warned against the unintended consequences of rushed legislation.  Supporters of the measure have also failed to take into account evolving research from the United States on paediatric and youth gender dysphoria, and that fact that the Government’s own Cass Review on gender identity services for children and young people will not be published until this summer.

In a nutshell, there is concern that rushed and poorly drafted legislation will threaten the basic tenets of fairness, freedom of speech, religious belief and tolerance, and the professionalism and autonomy of a number of caring sectors – such medicine, nursing, therapy, pastoral care and youth work and education.  Not to mention parents and guardians, all of whom risk being criminalised by poor legislation and activists with a narrow and extreme agenda.

For there is a real possibility that certain types of private consensual and routine conversations regarding sexual orientation and gender identity will become subject to criminal sanction.  And that it will not be possible for those charged with helping children and young people in particular to have open and explorative discussions about sexual identity and gender issues.

Thus, in the case of gender dysphoria, legitimate alternatives to radical and life changing pharmaceutical and surgical interventions could effectively become illegal. Do we want primary legislation that prevents clinicians from offering their patients the best treatment for their unique medical issues? As Baroness Jenkin has said: “when a child is suffering, it is crucial that they are allowed time, space and supportive therapy to discover why they feel the way they do.”

Such a bar would impact on young people with mental health problems and suicide ideation. Some of the alternatives would be irreversible. Government pledges of a “common sense” approach will count for very little if the legislation enacted is interpreted in a draconian manner.

These deeply flawed proposals arose from the well-meaning intentions of the May Government, and are now driven by a small claque of social liberals in 10 Downing Street – irrespective of the fact that there is already, and rightly, widespread opposition to physical and mental coercion based on both sexual orientation and gender identity, and tough legislation in place to combat it. In this respect, the UK has always been a pathfinder internationally. Who wouldn’t want to protect vulnerable people from bullying and coercion?

There is also real possibility that the Bill will fall foul of the European Convention on Human Rights in regards to Article 8 (Respect for Private and Family Life) and Article 9 (Freedom of Thought, Belief and Religion).  And that the Government may find itself liable for punitive damages in future litigation arising from the practices sanctioned by the Bill.

Like other May Government landmines – think Stop and Search, Windrush and the Northern Ireland Protocol – ideas touted as common sense and the right thing to do can obscure intractable issues and bring about unintended consequences.

All in all, there is no compelling case for this new legislation, or even persuasive evidence that it is actually required.  And the Government’s failure to outline a proper case for it hasn’t helped to dispel fears of a fait accomplis, with MPs being railroaded to an arbitrary deadline.

The Prime Minister has enough on his plate already. He needs the courage to reject this proposal, and face down a tiny minority, most of whom would never vote for him and his party, not least for the health of his battered administration.

Maya Forstater: One’s sex can’t change. The story of my fight to ensure this view is judged “worthy of respect”.

14 Jun

Radical is a civil-rights campaign for truth and freedom on matters of sex and gender, committed to free expression and equal respect, founded by Rebecca Lowe and Victoria Hewson. This Radical piece is written by Maya Forstater, an independent researcher, writer and adviser.

Last week, I won a landmark Employment Tribunal case where my belief that sex is real, immutable and important was found to be “worthy of respect in a democratic society”.

The case concerned freedom of speech and belief, and how far employers can constrain these rights when it comes to talking about sex and gender.

The test of being “worthy of respect in a democratic society” is meant to be a low bar, ruling out only the extremist views of literal nazis and violent revolutionaries. The first tribunal found that my belief fell into this category. The appeal judge disagreed.

The judgment states clearly that no one has the right to harass others at work and, importantly, protects everyone from discrimination based on their belief or lack of belief. This means it protects people like me who think that the words “male” and “female” relate to sperm and eggs and the bodies built to deliver them. It also protects those who believe in innate-but-fluid gendered identities, and who prioritise  “gender expression” over anatomy.

The judgment sets a precedent that should encourage Liz Truss and Boris Johnson to stop the practice of Whitehall Departments and other public bodies bending the knee to the gender lobby by pledging their allegiance to Stonewall.

My story starts in 2018. While working for an international development think tank, I had begun tweeting and writing, in my own time, about sex and gender, during the government’s consultation on reform of the Gender Recognition Act.

Some staff at the headquarters in Washington, D.C. took exception and this set off an escalating process. The organisation panicked, my tweets were compiled, diversity and inclusion consultants were drafted in to assess them, and even though I was not found to have broken any rules or policies, the senior leadership conceded to the will of the offended that I should be cast out. Ultimately, I lost my job.

My belief that sex is real should be utterly unremarkable. This is what the law says, after all.

But it has taken me over two years and £120,000 in crowd-funded legal fees to get this far. I still need to return to the Employment Tribunal for it to decide whether I was discriminated against in practice.

Despite telling my employer that I would use any preferred pronouns that people wanted and would always act with usual professional politeness, I have been put through a two-year nightmare, had my career destroyed and been painted as an extremist “transphobe”  too dangerous to associate with.

Along the way, I have also been investigated by the Scout Association (where I was a Cub Scout Leader) after a bearded man I had never met reported my use of the pronoun “he” instead of “they” for that person  on Twitter. The Scout Association dragged me through a complaint process over 18 months. I was told to apologise to the man who had called me “transphobic”, a “TERF” and “scum”, and who had said that I would leave young people dead and was unfit to be a Scout leader.

Indeed, the Scout Association partially agreed. The fact that I had taken my employer to tribunal, and judgment of the first judge, were taken as evidence that I might not be fit to be a Scout Leader.

Another set of doors that were slammed in my face were legal. My employment tribunal case was turned away by two law firms (one that dropped it just a few days before I was due to launch the crowdfunding campaign). The Solicitors Regulation Authority responded to my complaint by saying that it did not breach its code “if a firm declined to act because the client’s views conflicted with its own principles and values, as long as these were not discriminatory”.

I have been turned down for jobs at other think tanks and universities, and all but erased from history in the sector where I worked. This has happened even as my inbox fills up with messages from former colleagues, professional networks and eminent professors saying that they agree with me but cannot say so publicly for fear for their own careers.

It is not that I have said anything extreme to warrant this, or that I have been a uniquely unlucky target.  The new organisation I have co-founded, Sex Matters, has heard from dozens of people, in a wide variety of sectors, who have been investigated and subject to workplace discipline for such crimes as liking tweets, defending J.K. Rowling or questioning workplace policies. Meanwhile, thousands  more people are afraid to speak up.

The Kafkaesque nightmare we find ourselves in reflects the capture of the levers of policy- and decision-making by a small but influential group of LGBT+ lobbying organisations.

This is institutionalised through the Stonewall Diversity Champions Scheme. It covers 25 per cent of the UK workforce  and includes  organisations ranging from the Government Legal Department, the Ministry of Justice and the Solicitors Regulation Authority to the BBC and Ofcom, as well as almost all universities, major private sector employers and voluntary organisations from Citizen’s Advice to Save the Children. Stonewall’s prescriptions are delivered by a churning cast of “account managers”: young men and women fresh out of university in shiny suits and directional haircuts assess the policies of major organisations, and tell them what to do and say when employees dissent.

Every day we receive emails from people within Stonewalled organisations who say they fear for their jobs.  They talk of the  “Stonewall Stasi”: internal “LGBTQI+ Allies” groups who are empowered to thought-police their colleagues. As part of the Stonewall scheme the groups undertake “reverse mentoring”, where a young cadre-member will re-educate senior management. They write policies on micro-aggressions and pronouns (which of course it would be a micro-aggression to question) and set up ever more intricate tripwires of language with which to set off new rounds of complaints.

Straight “allies” often outnumber homosexuals and transsexuals in these groups. Many of those who write to us and say they are afraid are gays and lesbians who have found themselves on the wrong side of Stonewall’s new sexless world.

My win is a step towards stopping this madness. It clarifies that there is legal  protection against discrimination and harassment for people who do not subscribe to the dogma that “trans women are women; trans men are men”, that “demisexual” is a sexual orientation, or that men can be lesbians. It protects those who refuse to call themselves “cis”, do not feel the need to put pronouns in their email signature or wear a rainbow lanyard.

It also provides protection for those who aren’t involved in political debates on sex and gender at all, but who know that sometimes sex matters. This includes elderly women on hospital wards, religious women asking for a female health-care professional and children in school who don’t want a gender-confused teenager of the opposite sex in their showers.

None of this justifies or requires hostility or harassment of people with a transgender identity. But we do not have to remake all of reality for them, and nor should complaints processes be used to harass, bully and victimise others.

No one else should have to go through the nightmare I and my family have been put through. The government should withdraw all government departments from the Stonewall Scheme, and produce simple, straightforward guidance on single-sex services, and on freedom of belief as provided for by law.

Profile: Stonewall, a once brilliantly successful campaign group which now seems to be committing suicide

10 Jun

While agonising over how to begin this profile, I was rung by a friend who, on hearing of the subject on which I was working, declared:

“I hope you will say we are sick of being dictated to!”

That is not how I had thought of starting, for I am more timid and tactful than my friend. But it is actually quite a good jumping off point.

Stonewall finds itself in crisis because it has changed from an organisation which sought, with brilliant success, to persuade and to carry people with it, into one which insists on imposing a far from popular line.

The voluntary principle has been replaced by compulsion.

Nancy Kelley, since last summer Stonewall’s Chief Executive, recently compared gender-critical views to anti-semitism. In other words, anyone who maintains, as gender-critical feminists do, that “biological differences between the sexes make the continued provision of female-only spaces necessary”, is a disgraceful person.

Trans activists have set out to intimidate and silence the feminists, who in turn are appalled when trans women assert the right to enter female-only spaces, including women’s refuges, dormitories, prisons and sports facilities.

When Keir Starmer was running for the Labour leadership, he signed up to the list of ten pledges presented to the candidates by LGBT+ Labour, promising he would “campaign with you for the changes rightly prioritised here”:

“I will campaign to reform the Gender Recognition Act to introduce a self-declaration process… I believe that trans women are women, that trans men are men.”

A large number of feminists who think of themselves as Labour supporters find themselves without a leader who can articulate their concerns.

Not that Sir Keir is alone among politicians in preferring not to get involved in the debate.

Several influential Conservatives indicated this week to ConHome that they simply did not wish to play any part in the discussion.

Number Ten is watching developments carefully, but does not wish to have a public row. Boris Johnson’s approach to cultural issues of this kind, for example to the attacks on Winston Churchill’s statue, is not to intervene until people are pleading with him to do so.

Last September, the Government dropped plans to allow self-identification by trans people.

But a leading Conservative parliamentarian this week told me, on condition that their anonymity would be strictly preserved, that the trans debate is “extremely scary”.

In their view, Stonewall has completely dumped the LGB part of its mission, is now only interested in campaigning for trans, has become “an extremely unfriendly place for women”, and is viciously intolerant of dissent.

This presents, they argue, a danger for the Conservatives too: “The Conservative Party is terrified of another Section 28” – the law passed in 1988, towards the end of Margaret Thatcher’s prime ministership, forbidding the “promotion of homosexuality” by local authorities.

If the Tories were to become outspoken opponents of trans activists, they could once more come to be regarded as the nasty party.

So for several years, leading Conservative and Labour figures took great care to avoid the subject, as James Kirkup explained to ConHome in October 2018:

When James Kirkup became interested in transgender politics, people warned him that writing about it was too dangerous. He notes that the fear the subject inspires in many MPs of being attacked as “transphobic” has created a vacuum into which transgender campaigning groups have been able to move, and to push for the right of trans people to “self-identify” their gender, without the arguments for and against the reform being tested in rigorous debate.

In this interview, Kirkup says “nobody has really pointed out” that Professor Stephen Whittle – specialist adviser to the Women and Equalities Committee, chaired by Maria Miller, when it drew up its agenda-setting report on Transgender Equality – is “also the founder of a group called Press for Change, which was the first trans rights campaigning group in the UK.”

This avoidance of the subject is now breaking down. Victoria Hewson and Rebecca Lowe yesterday reported for ConHome, under their joint byline, Radical, some of the horrific information about Stonewall which has started to emerge as a result of Freedom of Information requests.

And Gary Powell recently declared on this site that, as a gay man, the LGBT+ lobby with its “extreme gender ideology” does not speak for him, and warned that we must “stop neo-Marxist identity politics being force-fed to children in British schools”.

Two of the original 14 founders of Stonewall, set up in 1989 in response to Section 28, have recently dissociated themselves from the organisation.

Stephen Fanshawe described in The Daily Mail how he had received a message from someone he “had always considered an ally in the fight for equality”:

“By expressing your views, you have put yourself outside Stonewall,” the terse message read when it landed in my inbox two years ago. Its Orwellian tone might make you wonder what “views” I could possibly have exhibited that would have set me at such odds with the organisation I proudly helped to form three decades earlier, to campaign for the rights of gay men and lesbians in a society that cruelly discriminated against them.

They must, surely, have been hateful and inflammatory? Not a bit of it. I had simply expressed the opinion that proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act for which Stonewall was campaigning — meaning people could legally “self-identify’” as whatever sex they chose, regardless of their biology — had serious implications for the rights of women.

And Matthew Parris explained in The Times why he thinks Stonewall has lost its way:

What is the charity I helped to found doing, getting entangled in attempts to deny free speech at a university? This column should avoid getting into the trans debate itself. My single, tight focus is on this question: why Stonewall?

There’s something perversely 20th-century about linking gays to trans. Gay men do not want to be women. We like being men. I doubt that being a lesbian is about not wanting to be a woman. Our issues have nothing to do with identification or changing our bodies: we know what we are and nobody disputes it. Most gay men would strongly resist the suggestion we’re boys who want to be girls. I can’t think of anything I’d like less. The whole history of the gay liberation movement is inseparable from what people do rather than what they are. Central to trans concerns is being, not doing. The one thing that links gays and lesbians with trans people is empathy with anyone excluded, oppressed, marginalised or rejected. Indeed this was what influenced some gay groups into supporting the 1984-5 miners’ strike, and Stonewall was perhaps drawn into the trans arguments because a group was fighting for what it considers to be its rights.

Stonewall, founded by a group of activists who met at the house of the actor Ian McKellen in Limehouse, in the East End of London, achieved in its first 20 years or so a series of legislative triumphs. It was named after the Stonewall riots in Greenwich Village in 1969, which erupted when members of the gay community in New York fought back against a police raid on the Stonewall Inn, and which led to the Pride marches which continue to this day.

In its original typewritten manifesto of 24th May 1989, Stonewall announced:

A Parliamentary Group has been set up to consider new, proposed or potential legislation on issues that may particularly effect lesbians and gay men; and to work with MPs and legislators to ensure equality.

Its central argument, that lesbians and gay men should enjoy equal treatment with heterosexuals, was so strong, and so in accordance with the way the world was moving, that a series of big reforms followed.

These included the lifting of the ban on lesbians and gay men serving in the armed forces, the equalisation of the age of consent, legal adoption by lesbian and gay couples, the repeal of Section 28 and the introduction of civil partnerships.

In 2001, Stonewall launched its Diversity Champions programme, which had rapid success in recruiting major employers, including banks, retailers and government departments, who wished to ensure that, in the words of Stonewall itself, “all LGBTQ+ staff are free to be themselves in the workplace”.

And in 2011, David Cameron confirmed, as Prime Minister, that Stonewall had been working with the grain of history by declaring his support at the Conservative Party Conference for same-sex marriage, which was passed into law in 2013.

As far as legal equality was concerned, Stonewall had by this point achieved pretty much everything it set out to do. It cast around for a new mission, and in 2014 it decided it had found it in trans.

One can hardly blame trans activists for accepting this huge accession of campaigning strength, and one can see why the people running Stonewall persuaded themselves that instead of winding down their organisation, and putting themselves out of work, here was another injustice which they should be able in the space of a decade or two to put right.

As Parris puts it,

Perhaps the truth is that, after success in our great 20th-century drive for equality, Stonewall was left with bricks and mortar, an admirable staff, a CEO and a fund-raising team and, unconsciously, craved another big, newsworthy cause. Well, sometimes a big army with only small battles to fight does best simply to scale back. I know many gay men have become embarrassed by Stonewall and see (as I do) the paradox that some of its activities are actually damaging the standing of the gay community. We don’t want to be associated with sallies in the trans wars. We want to feel proud, not hurt, not victims. Trans people cannot yet feel that: they need a support group. But that’s for them. Gays (to use the lingo) should not be colonising their issues.

It took a while for politicians to realise that the trans war was not necessarily going to end happily. Theresa May was generally favourable, during her prime ministership, towards the demands of the trans lobby.

Complaints that trans women were demanding the right to use facilities which ought to be reserved for biological women could at first be dismissed as transphobic, a charge all the more convincing because it is sometimes undoubtedly true.

So too complaints that children were being put under unfair pressure to discover that they were unhappy with the gender assigned to them at birth, and to have treatment.

Calm, open discussion of these issues was impossible, and most people felt they had better things to do than court confrontation with trans activists.

But there has now been an unmistakeable change in the political weather. Liz Truss, the Equalities Minister, is pushing for all government departments to withdraw from Stonewall’s Diversity Champions programme, which includes 250 public bodies among its 850 members.

The Sunday Telegraph reports that the Ministry of Justice will lead an “exodus” from the programme. A  source in the department told the paper:

“It’s a shame, as this was once an organisation that did incredibly important work, but it has totally lost its way and the ministers just don’t think it’s justifiable to give Stonewall taxpayers’ money.

“The department will be just as welcoming to LGBT people as before, but we really shouldn’t be paying thousands of pounds for controversial advice about pronouns and gender-neutral spaces.”

The Equalities and Human Rights Commission and the employment dispute service Acas have both withdrawn from Diversity Champions “for cost reasons”, a way of circumventing argument about the actual merits of what Stonewall offers.

But Lady Falkner, the new chair of the EHRC, has gone further, declaring in The Times in her first interview since taking up her post:

“Someone can believe that people who self identify as a different sex are not the different sex that they self identify. A lot of people would find this an entirely reasonable belief.”

When the editor of ConHome commissioned this profile, he asked: “Is the Government trying to kill Stonewall?” It seems to me it would be more accurate to say Stonewall is committing suicide.

Peter Lynas: The Government is digging itself deep into trouble over conversion therapy

17 May

Peter Lynas is the Director of the Evangelical Alliance.

The Government has got itself into a pickle on conversion therapy. It has promised to end it, pledging legislation in this year’s Queen’s speech, but also to protect those seeking spiritual support.   In reality, those two things are not mutually exclusive, but delivering both objectives will require a much more nuanced approach from the government than has been displayed to date.

Some of the practices carried out under conversion therapy have been abusive and wrong. The Church must also recognise its own failings in this area, and commit to doing better.

The challenge for the Government is that much of what it is committed to ending is already illegal. So it has committed to banning something it is reluctant to define, and ending something that is already unlawful. At the same time, Liz Truss, the Minister for Women and Equalities, has committed the government to protecting those seeking “spiritual support”.

Seizing on the Government’s dithering around definitions, the lobby group Ban Conversion Therapy has argued that “any form of counselling or persuading someone to change their sexual orientation or behaviour so as to conform with a heteronormative lifestyle or their gender identity should be illegal, no matter the reason, religious or otherwise – whatever the person’s age.”

This expansive definition risks criminalising not just counsellors and pastors, but anyone seeking to persuade another person to conform with a heteronormative lifestyle. It raises two significant questions – what is a heteronormative lifestyle and what is meant by persuasion?

The Cambridge dictionary defines heteronormativity as “suggesting or believing that only heterosexual relationships are right or normal, and that men and women have naturally different roles.” This puts orthodox Christian teaching on marriage and sexuality in the frame for being banned – especially as the definition above also makes particular mention of religious settings.

So imagine a youth leader giving a talk to a room full of young people and setting out a traditional Christian sex ethic – sex is best kept for marriage between one man and one woman. If someone is ‘persuaded’ to change their behaviour in response, an offence would have occurred.

The young person might not say anything, and the speaker wouldn’t necessarily know but nonetheless, a crime would have been committed. The Rev Ed Shaw, a gay celibate Christian, has written about the potentially bizarre implications that mean he couldn’t pray with, or pastor, someone like himself.

If a male friend of mine is having an affair and I ‘persuade’ him to end it, my actions might be an offence depending on who he was having an affair with. If it’s a man, it’s an offence because I was persuading him to return to his wife – ie conforming to a heteronormative lifestyle. If the affair is with a women, I might be in the clear – because his actions will have been heteronormative throughout.

The bullish statements from the Government about what it intends to do in this area, combined with its failure to define conversion therapy, has already created a climate of the fear. Everyday practices such as prayer ministry and pastoral support have been put in jeopardy.

The irony is that to turn this into policy, the Government risks discriminating against gay people. To persuade or counsel a straight person to live a celibate life is fine. To do the same with a gay person is likely an offence, because they have suppressed their sexuality. Why can a straight person make that choice and a gay person cannot? Treating people differently based on their sexual orientation is discrimination.

The definition from Ban Conversion Therapy also mentions gender identity. Gender is a complex, psycho-social construction built on sexual biology. For most, our gender conforms to our sex. Some wish to adopt a different gender for a variety of reasons. I may well disagree with their choice, but in a free and tolerant society they should be able to do so.

LGBT and women’s organisations have raised concerns that the current push to ban conversion therapy is being used as political cover to promote an affirmation-only approach to gender identity – something they oppose. The differing views on this aspect of conversion therapy provide a further challenge for the Government.

Conversion therapy is a challenging and emotive topic to discuss because some have experienced significant harm in its name. However, the lack of definition makes meaningful engagement very difficult, threatening to shut down free speech and failing to help the very people it claims to serve.

Confusion also arises because the word conversion is at the heart of the Christian faith. In the death and resurrection of Jesus is the power to change our lives, our attitudes, our hearts and our sexual desires. To think otherwise is to empty the cross of its power.

Those calling for a ban, and those in Government drafting policy on this issue, must articulate exactly what they want to stop, end or ban. If it’s the horrific and coerced treatment of people forced to try and change their sexual attraction, then I for one am with them. If it’s about stopping people choosing how they express their sexuality, and attempting to redefine or limit the faith of others then they should be resisted.

The Government has made two commitments – to end horrific practices linked to conversion therapy and to protect those seeking spiritual support. Its challenge is to find a way to honour both.

Gary Powell: Why is the Government giving councils £11 million to encourage unprotected sex?

10 Nov

Cllr Gary Powell is a councillor in Buckinghamshire

In his piece for ConservativeHome, Elliot Colburn, MP for Carshalton and Wallington, celebrated the grant of £11.1 million to local authorities to fund a roll-out of “PrEP” (“Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis”). The primary purpose of this drug is to reduce HIV transmission among people engaging in multiple-partner penetrative casual sex without wearing a condom. The manufacturers don their own reputational protection by asserting PrEP should only be used in conjunction with a condom; however, the demand for PrEP in the gay male community is fuelled by men who have unsafe sex with multiple casual sexual partners and who do not like using condoms. The whole point in them taking PrEP is to facilitate unprotected sex: these days called “barebacking”.

Colburn referred to this Government largesse with taxpayers’ money as a “huge breakthrough”, as “something every Conservative can be proud of”, as “PrEP on the NHS”, as a “thing we can celebrate” and as “another thing to be proud a Conservative government has achieved.” Well, I am one gay Conservative who is anything but proud of this politically-driven insanity.

In 1983, nine years before Mr Colburn was born, I was already campaigning for gay rights, at a time when we really did lack them. As President of Oxford University Gay and Lesbian Society I had a particular responsibility to keep our members informed as the terrifying AIDS crisis was breaking. I lost dear friends to AIDS – all of whom became infected before the virus was identified and before there was any advice about using condoms for penetrative sex. As a lentivirus, HIV can sit around in the body for many years before causing illness, which meant that, for several years, many people had become infected, and were infecting others, unwittingly. At that time, HIV infection was a death sentence. Today, antiretroviral medications for life can provide a normal lifespan.

Knowledge about safer sex with condoms in the 1970s and early 1980s would have saved many lives. Condoms are very cheap and are available free at GUM clinics. They are a great and safe alternative to PrEP, dispensing with a long-term daily medication regime that somebody has to pay for, that requires regular clinical monitoring, and that carries long-term risks, including kidney damage and a loss of bone mineral density.

Colburn’s assertion that, “When taken correctly (PrEP) is nearly 100 per cent effective,” is dangerously misleading. The US Center for Disease Control (CDC) informs us that “PrEP reduces the risk of getting HIV from sex by about 99 per cent when taken consistently”. Unlike Mr Colburn, I would not describe 99 per cent efficacy as “nearly 100 per cent effective” when there is a one per cent risk of contracting a potentially deadly virus that will put one on medication for life. If a million men who have sex with men (MSM) ended up on PrEP and took it consistently, exposing themselves to risk, a one per cent failure rate equates to 10,000 HIV infections. You wouldn’t tell someone, if there was a one per cent chance of being attacked by a shark in some waters, that swimming there was “almost 100 per cent” safe. Just as worrying is Mr Colburn’s failure to acknowledge that, for people who inject drugs, PrEP affords a protection rate that may be as low as 74 per cent.

Although condoms can break or slip off, the largest study to date indicates a failure rate of less than one per cent for anal sex and less than two per cent for vaginal sex, so long as appropriate lubrication is used. (A caveat, however: previous studies have suggested higher failure rates.) If a condom does break, and the HIV status of the other person is positive or unknown, people can attend a GUM clinic or hospital A&E department for a 30-day course of Post-Exposure Prophylactic (PEP) (best within 24 hours, certainly within 72 hours). Neither condoms nor PrEP are 100 per cent reliable, but in combination, they provide very good odds. Indeed, when a commitment to avoid anonymous sex with multiple strangers is added to the above, or even – perish the thought! – a commitment to a monogamous relationship with someone you love, then the odds of HIV infection will fall lower still.

The sexually transmitted infection (STI) statistics in the UK are skyrocketing, and not only among men who have sex with men. The MSM statistics, however, are particularly worrying, and the specific concern, in relation to PrEP, is gonorrhoea. The CDC informs us that “Gonorrhoea has progressively developed resistance to the antibiotic drugs prescribed to treat it.”

A 2016 study in the USA estimated that between 1.5 per cent and six per cent of its adult male population had sex with other men. I’m going to take the higher figure and assume six per cent of the adult male UK population are MSM (i.e. gay or bisexual, and sexually active with other men). A 2019 report on STIs by Public Health England revealed that, between 2018 and 2019, gonorrhoea cases among heterosexual men had increased by 17 per cent (from 13,036 to 15,253) and among MSM by 26 per cent (from 26,864 to 33,853). This same MSM group that is at high risk of HIV infection therefore also has a colossally higher number of gonorrhoea infections. Condoms are very effective at preventing gonorrhoea, and the figures clearly point to a worrying lack of condom use by a section of MSM.

The MSM raw infection numbers are alarming. MSM (remember: only around six per cent of the male adult population) had 33,853 gonorrhoea infections, while the whole male heterosexual population had 15,253 infections. If heterosexual males had been infected with gonorrhoea at the same rate as MSM, the UK adult male population would have had 564,216 infections. Just let that sink in.

Instead of championing PrEP as a milestone in LGBT+ activism, the Government would be wise to encourage people to limit their casual sexual partners and to commit to safer sex using condoms, with PrEP for condom failure. If antibiotic prescriptions to treat gonorrhoea infections continue to climb, so will the risk of antibiotic-resistant gonorrhoea becoming a future global pandemic.