The slow sands of time; UK trans population finally protected from conversion therapy

After two years of waiting, trans people have finally been added to the Memorandum of Understanding on Conversion Therapy, an issue which Karen Pollock has been following.

Almost a year ago, The Queerness featured an open letter to the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy, calling for trans people to be added to the memorandum of understanding on conversion therapy. There was considerable confusion as to why they had not be included in the first place, and a belief that this protection was vital to prevent the proven harms of conversion therapy. 

Yesterday (Monday 16 January), gender was finally added to the Memorandum of Understanding on Conversion Therapy, which has been signed by the following bodies:

  • The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy
  • The British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies
  • The British Psychoanalytic Council
  • The British Psychological Society
  • The College of Sexual and Relationship Therapists
  • GLADD – The Association of LGBT Doctors and Dentists
  • The National Counselling Society
  • National Health Service Scotland
  • Pink Therapy
  • The Royal College of General Practitioners
  • The Scottish Government
  • Stonewall
  • The UK Council for Psychotherapy

A clear and unequivocal statement has been released by some of the signatories.

We the undersigned UK organisations wish to state that the practice of conversion therapy has no place in the modern world.  It is unethical and harmful and not supported by evidence.

Conversion Therapy is the term for therapy that assumes certain sexual orientations or gender identities are inferior to others, and seeks to change or suppress them on that basis.

Sexual orientations and gender identities are not mental health disorders, although exclusion, stigma and prejudice may precipitate mental health issues for any person subjected to these abuses.

Anyone accessing therapeutic help should be able to do so without fear of judgement or the threat of being pressured to change a fundamental aspect of who they are.

It is especially important in the current climate that such a strong statement has been delivered. In the past week, the BBC has given a platform to discredited medical professionals who support the idea that children should be forced to conform to their assigned gender roles. In the US, as we approach the inauguration of President Trump, many anti-trans campaigners are feeling empowered to introduce anti-trans legislation.

The MoA means that any member of the signatory organisations cannot attempt to ‘fix’ someone who is trans, or treat being trans as a mental health condition which needs curing. Even in recent months, the letters page of Therapy Today (the in-house magazine of the BACP) has compared being trans to anorexia. Many followers of Kenneth Zucker insist that gender variant children need to be made to ‘love their bodies’ rather than having their feelings about their gender listened to and respected.

As Ruth Hunt, Chief Executive of Stonewall, said in her statement as a signatory of the memorandum;

Trans people do not need to be ‘cured’. What they need is to be accepted for who they are

It has always been incompatible with the non-judgemental and non-discriminatory stance that medical and mental health professionals are meant to hold that they could attempt to ‘cure’ someone of being trans. Today puts in black and white what many of us have been campaigning for, and demanding, for over two years. Just as it is wrong to tell someone who is gay, lesbian or bisexual that they should be heterosexual, so it is wrong to tell someone who is trans that they should be cisgender. Furthermore, it is wrong to try to convey the message to them in counselling or psychotherapy that their gender is some kind of symptom or presentation of other underlying mental health conditions.

However, whilst this is a vital step, it is just a first step. I spoke to Tara Stone, CEO of Be: Trans Development, and member of the Stonewall Trans advisory committee. Whilst she welcomed the MoU, she was clear it should be seen as a beginning, not an ending;

I am pleased regarding the creation of a Memorandum of Understanding making it clear gender diverse peoples identities are not a condition to be cured. Let us remember beyond conversion therapy there is still much needed education and awareness raising in health and social care professions.

There are many accounts of trans people receiving less than acceptable treatment from those who should be better trained in sexual and gender diversity. From misgendering to putting trans people on the wrong wards, the need for a complete change in attitudes has been highlighted many times. As Tara Stone goes on to say, this is a day to be pleased with what has been achieved, but not to forget what needs to be done;

Transgender people still face inequalities in accessing appropriate care services and when they do access care, their experiences are often less than the experience of people who are not Trans. There is still much work to be done, but this announcement is a really positive step forward.

Follow Karen on Twitter (@CounsellingKaz)

6 thoughts on “The slow sands of time; UK trans population finally protected from conversion therapy

  1. That’s great news, I hope one day neurology will be included in that statement, and conversion therapy (ABA) for autistic and other neurologically different individuals become unthinkable as well.


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