Royal College of General Practitioners forced into U-turn after conceding equalities legislation prevents cancellation of gender critical doctors’ conference

The Royal College of General Practitioners has been forced into a U-turn after conceding that the Equality Act prevents it from cancelling a gender critical conference due to be held at its headquarters next month

The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) has been forced into a U-turn after conceding that equalities legislation prevents it from acceding to LGBTQ+ activists’ demands that it cancel a gender critical conference due to be held at its headquarters next month.

The Clinical Advisory Network on Sex and Gender (CAN-SG) had long planned to host its conference, First Do No Harm, from the RCGP’s conference centre in Euston Square, which is run by an independent events company.

The conference aims to discuss current controversies in the care of children and young adolescents with gender dysphoria, and speakers at the event will include GPs, clinical psychologists, psychiatrists, and academics from a range of disciplines, while

CAN-SG is a coalition of healthcare professionals who campaign for “improved treatment options for gender dysphoria”. Specifically, they believe that prescribing hormone blockers for gender dysphoria should be “scientifically scrutinised” because there is “currently no robust evidence that they improve long-term outcomes” and they almost invariably set young people on a course of lifetime medicalisation with high personal, physical and social costs.

In other words, CAN-SG is pursuing an entirely reasonable, perfectly lawful programmatic research campaign. And a timely one. As Prof Sallie Baxendale points out for Unherd, not only are there are currently more studies assessing the impact of puberty blockers on cognitive function in animals than humans, but getting academic research papers on this topic through an increasingly politicised peer-review process isn’t as easy as it should be.

However, on Friday 8th February, the RCGP announced that it was “aware of a situation” relating to the conference booking, and was “in discussion” with the events company who manage the venue.

The “situation” was that campaign groups including ‘Pride RCGP’ and the Association of LGBTQ+ Doctors & Dentists had begun criticising what it described as RCGP’s “accidental endorsement” of the event.

In a post on X, Dr Richard Ma, a GP and member of Pride RCGP, said: “LGBTQ+ patients already feel unsafe and have difficult relationships with NHS when accessing care due to perceived discrimination. This event would worsen the already little trust the LGBTQ community has with general practice. It is also hurtful to know this would undo years of work Pride RCGP have done to build relationships between LGBTQ community and general practice and improve their care.”

Dr Ma continued: “While we believe we need honest and respectful discussions to improve care of gender-questioning young people, we should not have to share a platform with people who invalidate or dehumanise lived experiences of trans/non-binary peers/patients. Our community does not feel safe.”

The Trans Safety Network, which records evidence of ‘transphobia’ in the UK, said: “It is scandalous that the RCGP should be hosting this event organised by hate groups posing as a scientific conference.”

As reported by the Telegraph, the college’s events management team, Searcys, subsequently wrote to CAN-SG to inform it that its event had been cancelled.

Dr Louise Irvine, the co-chairman of CAN-SG, said: “I asked why the event was cancelled and the manager said he did not know. He just said that senior people in RCGP had been discussing it all day and then instructed him to contact me to cancel.

“I found out later that on that Friday, there was a well-orchestrated campaign by activists to send numerous emails to RCGP full of false allegations about our conference.”

A few days later, however, the RCGP was forced into an about-turn. In a statement it said that following “intense and wide-ranging discussions” about “an extremely complex situation” it had decided that the conference could go ahead.

The RCGP went on to say that it was not involved in organising the conference, did not endorse its contents, and that as soon as it became aware that marketing and publicity material “might give a different impression”, it asked the organisers “to remove all references to the RCGP’s name”.

“We understand the concerns and strength of feeling that this event has provoked, particularly among our LGBTQ+ community of GPs and patients,” the statement reassured its Pride RCGP affiliated members, before adding: “Legal considerations are such that the College would be at risk of being faced with a claim for breaching the Equality Act is we acted otherwise.”

While the RCGP didn’t release details about “the legal considerations” involved, the attempted cancellation of SNP MP Joanna Cherry last year offers some useful pointers.

Cherry was no-platformed by an Edinburgh comedy venue, The Stand, after pro-trans staff refused to work at an “In conversation with…” event she had been booked for, because her gender critical belief in the immutable biological reality of sex made them feel “uncomfortable”. In response, Cherry – a KC, no less – issued the venue with an ultimatum: apologise and reinstate the event, or the matter would be placed before the courts

Her solicitors then released legal advice from Aidan O’Neill KC, which concluded that the Stand had “acted in a manner which runs contrary to its obligations under the [Equality Act] 2010 not to discriminate against Ms Cherry because of philosophical beliefs”.

The Equality Act says a person cannot be treated less favourably on the basis of a protected characteristic, in this case ‘religion or belief’. As per the landmark Forstater, Bailey and Mackereth cases, it has long been established that this encompasses the gender critical ‘belief’ that sex is immutable and biological, as well as ‘disbelief’ in the ideology of gender identity.

As Stephen Daisley pointed out at the time, “barely had the ink dried” on the lawyer’s letter than The Stand “performed a screeching U-turn” on its decision to cancel the event.

While it’s certainly true that the ways in which gender critical views manifest themselves in behaviour might not be protected, the ‘behaviours’ on display during a scholarly academic seminar on gender medicine would appear prima facie to be “protected philosophical beliefs” under the Equality Act, and not an attack on trans people or their allies.