Free Speech Union’s response to the Government’s consultation about banning conversion therapy

ITV News is reporting that the Government has abandoned its plans to pass a law banning conversion therapy. We wholeheartedly welcome this news and are publishing our response to the consultation (below) in which we urged the Government to ditch the poorly-thought-out and unworkable proposal.

Stop Press: The Government has decided it will pass a law banning conversion therapy after all, which is disappointing. However, it intendeds to exclude gender dysphoria from the legislation.

Do you agree or disagree that the Government should intervene to end conversion therapy in principle?

Strongly disagree.

As paragraph 5 of the Government’s consultation paper makes clear, there is an existing criminal law framework that prohibits offences of “physical or sexual violence”. Our concern is that “conversion therapy”, as currently under discussion, is too vaguely defined to form the basis of a new law and such a law would inevitably have a chilling effect on free speech.

We note with concern that any attempt to change “gender identity” (as well as “sexual orientation”) is considered a form of “conversion therapy”. Yet no attempt is made to define what “gender identity” means – a problem, given that it can mean different things depending on whether the context is scientific, medical, sociological or legal. Many legitimate activities – such as referring a young person with a history of mental illness who identifies as trans to a psychotherapist before they decide to have irreversible medical procedures – might fall foul of any legal ban on “conversion therapy”.

There is also a risk that affirming the self-diagnosis of a child who identifies as trans could in itself be a form of “conversion therapy” and fall foul of the ban. Where a young lesbian initially identifies as a man and later changes her mind, could she not urge the police to investigate the health care professional who affirmed her self-diagnosis and referred her to the Tavistock where she underwent life changing medical procedures on the grounds that this professional helped to “convert” her?

Our understanding of transgenderism is still in its infancy and we cannot rule out the possibility that in some cases identifying as transgender, or gender fluid, may be symptomatic of a mental disorder. Indeed, we note that “gender dysphoria” is included in the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the Bible of the American psychiatric profession. Clinical professionals have both a right and a duty to recommend what in their judgment is the best clinical pathway for a patient who identifies as transgender, particularly if that patient is a minor. It would be an infringement of the clinician’s right to free speech, and not in the interests of their patients, to legally prohibit one possible diagnosis and, in some cases, forcing them to break their Hippocratic Oath.
At the Free Speech Union, we are concerned that any new law will criminalise the expression of beliefs that do not comply with trans rights orthodoxy, as articulated by Stonewall and other organisations that claim to speak (wrongly) for the entire LGBTQ+ population. Others at risk of falling foul of the new law are persons, including clinicians, who are uncomfortable with the current fashion for encouraging trans children to embark on medical transition, as well as followers of the world’s major religious faiths.

Should the Government proposals strengthen the case for disqualifying any person with gender critical beliefs from holding a senior role in a charity, this also raises the question of whether charities can have religion- or belief-motivated charitable purposes or whether some charities – such as Christian Concern – will end up being investigated by the Charity Commission following complaints from trans rights activists.

Letter to the Provost of Worcester about ill-judged apology to students for allowing Christian group to hold conference on college facilities

We’ve written to Mr David Isaac CBE, the Provost of Worcester College, Oxford, asking him to retract his apology to students after they complained about the use of College facilities by the Wilberforce Academy, a summer school run by Christian Concern, and withdraw the ban he imposed on further bookings by the Academy. He apologised last year – and announced the ban – after students accused the attendees of the three-day event of “aggressive leafleting” and other misdemeanours, but an independent investigation carried out by a charity lawyer has found no evidence to support these allegations. You can read about our letter and the independent report in the Telegraph here.

Letter to the Vice-Chancellor of Cardiff about threats of violence against a group of our members at the University

We’ve been helping a group of academics at Cardiff who’ve been targeted and harassed for asking the University to look again at its membership of Stonewall’s Diversity Champions scheme. Cardiff has failed to take appropriate action, despite threats of violence against these academics, and has even misplaced evidence related to the case. The Free Speech Union has written to the Vice-Chancellor of Cardiff, Professor Colin Riordan, to ask him to set up an independent inquiry into the University’s failure to properly investigate the matter, and to present new evidence of the continuing efforts to threaten and intimidate our members.

Below, you can read our original letter, the reply we received from Professor Riordan on 28th March 2022 and another letter from us in response to Professor Riordan’s reply.

Letter to Minister for Education concerning intimidation campaign against Cardiff academics

We’ve written to Jeremy Miles MS, Minister for Education, urging him to intervene in the situation at Cardiff University where several of our members and their colleagues, all academic staff, have been targeted by trans activists in a long-running campaign of intimidation. It began in June 2021 after the academics urged Cardiff to reconsider its continuing participation in the Stonewall Diversity Champion scheme. Following this, a leaflet was distributed on campus picturing a woman holding a gun, the names and pictures of the signatories, and the caption “ACT NOW”. A student whistleblower then revealed violent threats being made on the Facebook page of the Cardiff LGBT+ Society. This evidence was all presented to the University and the police, but neither Cardiff University authorities nor the police responded robustly to protect these academics. The University failed to conduct a thorough investigation in a timely manner and misplaced evidence. It defended messages referring to academics as an ”ignorant fuckface” and a call to kneecap them as legitimate expressions of free speech, even after one of the signatories had his car window smashed.

Letter to Professor Karen O’Brien, Vice-Chancellor of Durham University, concerning a ‘diversity pledge’ that applicants for Assistant Professorships are required to make

We’ve written to Professor Karen O’Brien, the new Vice-Chancellor of Durham University, objecting to a requirement that those applying for the role of Assistant Professor in Durham’s International Relations department provide a statement affirming their commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. We are concerned that requiring applicants to profess their fealty to a particular belief system could be a breach of the Equality Act 2010, as well as Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Letter to Professor Martin Jones, Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive of Staffordshire University, regarding the investigation into Professor James Treadwell by Staffordshire University

We have written to Professor Martin Jones, Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive of Staffordshire University, in defence of our member Professor James Treadwell, a criminologist. He has been placed under investigation by the University after he engaged in the debate over gender self-identification and the risk it poses to female inmates in women’s prisons, following a complaint about his comments from trans activists.

Below, you can see our original letter and the reply we received from Professor Martin Jones on 31st January 2022.

Letter to the Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Edinburgh about Sir Geoff Palmer branding two senior Edinburgh academics “racist”

We have written to Professor Peter Mathieson, the Principal and Vice-Chancellor of Edinburgh, to complain about the University’s inadequate defence of Professor Emeritus Sir Tom Devine and Jonathan Hearn, Professor of Historical Sociology, both of whom have been smeared as “racists” by Sir Geoff Palmer, Chancellor of Heriot-Watt University and Chair of the Edinburgh Slavery and Colonialism Legacy Review Group. Sir Geoff’s comments were in response to criticisms raised about the work of the Legacy Review Group. You can read about the controversy here.

Below, you can see our original letter and the reply we received from Professor Peter Mathieson on 26th January 2022.

Letter to the Vice-Chancellor of UCL About ‘Liberating the Curriculum’

We’ve written to Dr Michael Spence, the Vice-Chancellor of UCL, about the requirement that anyone in a grade 8 job at the University, or applying for one, has to remove ‘dead white able-bodied European men’ from reading lists, ‘check their privilege’ and ‘acknowledge the prejudice baked into their field’ – a requirement of UCL’s ‘Liberating the Curriculum’ policy. We think this is an infringement of their right to free speech and almost certainly unlawful. You can read about the letter – and UCL’s reaction – in the Telegraph.

Below, you can see our original letter and the reply we received from Dr Micael Spence on 20th December 2021.

Letter to Lord Wharton regarding Professor Timothy Luckhurst

We’ve written to Lord Wharton, the Chair of the Office for Students, asking him to pay close attention to the current investigation of Tim Luckhurst, the Principal of South College, Durham who is subject to a witch-hunt at the University following his invitation to Rod Liddle to give an after-dinner speech on Friday 3 December. Following his receipt of this letter, Lord Wharton gave an interview to the Telegraph in which he said: “As a point of principle it is important for students to engage with views and theories with which they may not agree. A robust but tolerant sharing of views is an essential element of the whole experience of higher education.”

Letter to Master of Downing College about its new ‘Report Racism Guidance’

Downing College, Cambridge

We have written to Mr Alan Bookbinder, the Master of Downing College, Cambridge about its new ‘Report Racism Guidance‘ which replicates many of the legally questionable aspects of the University’s controversial ‘Report + Support’ policy which was withdrawn by the Vice-Chancellor last May after the Free Speech Union wrote to him to complain about it. You can read about this letter, and why we’re concerned about Downing’s new guidance, in the Telegraph here. We hope this letter will have a similar effect to our previous one.