The UK Government recently announced they were going to ban the “abhorrent” practice of conversion therapy that aims to change sexuality in LGB people. However, they specifically excluded conversion therapy targeted toward trans people. Trans people are already some of the most vulnerable people in the LGBTQIA+ community and in society. This selective protection of certain characteristics means that trans people, including children, are vulnerable to the spiritual, emotional, and even physical abuse of conversion therapy. Even worse, actively deciding not to protect trans people from this abuse gives it legitimacy.
Conversion therapy is often peddled by organised religious groups. We have all seen the deluded rhetoric from the Christian far-right in the US and can easily recognise that as nonsense. Here, I will highlight the more insidious “gender-critical” rhetoric promoted by figures like JK Rowling. This is transphobia thinly veiled by academic terminology and apparent respectability.
Transphobia on the public stage
In recent years, secular and seemingly “progressive” figures like JK Rowling and the academic Kathleen Stock have contributed to the idea that the existence and validity of trans people is up for academic debate. If the existence of the identity is in question, then it is easier for people to fail to protect or even attack that identity. These people do not consider themselves to be transphobic, but by debating the existence of trans people in the public sphere, they contribute to a culture where attacking trans people politically and even physically is becoming increasingly permissible.
Boris Johnson has referenced the “debate” on whether trans women should be able to compete in women’s sports as an example of his justification for leaving trans people out of this ban on conversion therapy. This shows that those who call themselves “gender-critical” but deny being transphobic have directly contributed to this failure to protect trans people from abuse.
The sidelining of Stonewall
Stonewall, one of the most established and respected LGBTQIA+ charities in the world, has been rabidly attacked for defending trans people and affirming their existence. For many years they have been able to lobby from within the corridors of power and became part of the establishment of respectable pressure groups in Westminster. However, since they have taken a stand against the “gender-critical” (transphobic) rhetoric that is the new hill that the “anti-woke” brigade has decided to die on, they have been attacked and pushed away from the establishment. A chilling example of this was the BBC’s withdrawal from Stonewall’s Diversity Champions programme and Workplace Equality Index in November 2021. In a statement, the BBC said:
“Along with many other UK employers, the BBC has participated in Stonewall’s Diversity Champions Programme to support our objective to create a fully inclusive workplace. However, over time our participation in the Programme has led some to question whether the BBC can be impartial when reporting on public policy debates where Stonewall is taking an active role.”
This is a failure to protect vulnerable citizens
The “public policy debates” referenced above are in relation to trans people, their rights, protections, and existence. These “debates” are what have led to the government’s egregious failure to protect some of its most vulnerable citizens. It is clear from the UK Government’s response that trans people are visible enough to warrant specific exclusion but not important enough to warrant protection from abuse.