Picture credit: Stonewall
Artillery Row

A legal Trojan horse

“Conversion practices” laws are not what they seem

Stonewall recently released its latest attempt at heart-rending propaganda. A short advert for a “conversion therapy” ban shows a teenager we must presume has a “gender-non-conforming” identity of some sort (there are supposedly several thousand options, don’t forget) apparently being led through “conversion therapy”.

The parents are portrayed as devious-despite-loving types, who seek out a creepy counsellor with no clue about consent and a too-enthusiastic prayer group from the local church. Poor grandma comes out perhaps the worst, for saying “oh we’ve missed our boy, I’m so glad you’re better” after a haircut.

It is a fairly stylish little video from the directors of Vogue’s “queer expression from other worlds” — an artsy portrayal of “non-binary” people made up to look like monsters – and Dazed magazine’s “Qween’s Speech”, which features singer Sam Smith and “top surgery” mastectomy scar-bearing others declaring “Let 2020 be the year of the United Queendom”.

In each case, a magazine-style grainy aesthetic with soft colours is perfect for the Instagram generation. But, as with the director’s mainstay of music videos, emotion and artistic expression take precedence over detail. We can all have great sympathy for the lead character’s struggles, but is this a healthy way to write law?

In many ways, an attractive appearance is covering up a wholly gruesome truth. These campaigners advocate easier and quicker access for children to lifelong medicalisation, extreme operations to remove body parts, and more. The young people caught up in gender ideology need compassion and support, not hormones and life-altering surgery.

The aim of Stonewall’s video is clearly to build support for their otherwise stalling “Ban Conversion Therapy” campaign. Until now, the Government has danced to the activists’ tune. Whether agreeing to include transgenderism within a new law or changing the terminology from “conversion therapy” to “conversion practices”, only those pressing for an extreme ban have had much tangible influence.

But as their video demonstrates, this campaign is built on emotion alone. The longer that law-makers spend looking at the detail of ban conversion therapy plans, the less they like it.

It is not that those of us concerned about a ban lack sympathy for those who feel they have been ostracised and let down over decades. There is no doubt of the immense burden that those who struggle over gender or sexuality carry. But Stonewall’s response is deeply irrational. They are calling for a broad law to tackle undefinable harms. The video suggests this is a law against prayer meetings and haircuts.

Actual abuse has thankfully been outlawed for years now. No one carries out the horrific experiments that took place last century, and many institutions that did take part have since apologised. There is simply no evidence of loopholes in our law which need to be fixed.

People are waking up to the fact that Stonewall is demanding a new law on purely ideological grounds — a new law which says their way of looking at the world is right and any others illicit. Stonewall says a ban must include amorphous categories like “non-binary”, “asexual” and “agender” and that anyone who seeks to change someone’s mind on these is causing harm.

Westminster might not plan to go that far. But it has said it will comply with demands to include gender identity. If this law is passed, it would become increasingly difficult for parents or friends to help a child feel comfortable in their own body. And who knows what the next concession to the activists will be.

One of the strangest moves has been the rebranding from “conversion therapy” to “conversion practices”. There are conflicting voices among LGBT groups, but the basic claim is that “conversion therapy” isn’t “therapy”. I think everyone is more or less in agreement on that, but it’s only half the story. You see “conversion therapy” isn’t really “conversion” either. That makes the new term “conversion practices” extremely difficult to parse. “Conversion” is commonly a religious word, and activists keep saying that they want a new law to tackle religion. But no one is any longer talking about “therapy” or even pseudo-medical intervention: it is now all about prayer meetings and pastoral care and parental guidance and preaching sermons…

So by sleight-of-hand “conversion practices” risks meaning “religious practices”.

A criminal law on religious practices is obviously a serious problem

A criminal law on religious practices is obviously a serious problem, because it leaves the world of beliefs open to police investigation. It asks the state to choose sides in philosophical and theological disagreements in a tyrannical way. That is clearly injurious to our democracy and to family life. And it runs contrary to the healthy intentions of human rights law.

Here is my suggestion: let’s rename “conversion practices” as “abusive practices”. If the Government wrote a law tackling “abusive practices against gay and transgender people” I think they’d find a lot more agreement. All those words have a meaning in UK law, and a law against abuse poses no threat to those who don’t abuse. Ordinary Christians and parents would not be caught in the crossfire.

Whether such a law is necessary is still a hurdle to overcome. But at least we’d all know what is on the table. Churches and Stonewall would be united (what a thought!) against genuinely harmful practices and horrendous abuse.

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