Teachers ‘risk prosecution' for discussing gender with pupils

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Boris Johnson is facing a Conservative revolt over a “rushed” legal change that senior Tories fear will lead to the prosecution of parents and teachers for helping children who say they are transgender.

MPs and ministers are concerned about proposals to outlaw conversations about the “gender identity” of children, under pressure from Stonewall, the equality charity.

The plans are seen as a little known extension of the Government's plans to outlaw gay conversion therapy, which are not seen as controversial and were first promised by the Conservatives in 2018.

‘Freedom of speech and belief’

A growing number of Conservative parliamentarians fear that also attempting to encapsulate conversion therapy aimed at changing gender identity will criminalise routine conversations between children and parents, teachers or clinicians, and lead to more children undergoing “radical medical or surgical procedures, which they later deeply regret”.

Government sources insisted that gender identity has been part of the proposals since 2018, on the basis that Theresa May promised steps to ban conversion therapy attempting to “cure” lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. In a foreword to the formal consultation document on the changes, Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary and equalities minister, said that “freedom of choice, freedom of speech and belief” were “central” to the proposals.

But on Saturday night, a series of backbenchers publicly warned the Government to drop the proposals, as they urged the Prime Minister to extend the consultation, which is currently due to end on Friday after little more than a month for people to raise objections.

Baroness Jenkin, the Tory peer who founded Women2Win, the Conservative women's organisation, with Theresa May, said: “Legislation must not make parents, children, teachers and clinicians frightened to talk to each other.”

She added: “When a child is suffering, it is crucial that they are allowed time, space and supportive exploratory therapy to discover why they feel the way they do.”

‘Trampling over vulnerabilities of children’

Tim Loughton, a former children's minister, said: “This legislation risks trampling over the vulnerabilities of children, many of whom are entering into drug treatments that are life-changing and can also make them sterile.”

Damian Green, the former first secretary of state, added: “The Government must extend the consultation period and commit to pre-legislative scrutiny so that this can be thought through properly, rather than simply following Stonewall’s line.”

The plan to explicitly outlaw “abhorrent” gay conversion therapies was first announced by Mrs May in 2018, and cited by Carrie Johnson, the Prime Minister's wife, in October as an example of the Prime Minister's commitment to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights. It is being championed by Henry Newman, one of Mr Johnson's senior advisers.

But a growing number of Conservative MPs, peers and government figures fear that the consultation document leaves the door open to teachers, parents, therapists and social workers facing prosecution if they fail to “affirm” the position of those who state that they are transgender.

They are concerned that the Government will create a series of “elephant traps” if it rushes through the legislation in time for an LGBT conference being hosted by Britain next summer. Campaigners are also concerned that the changes would introduce the concept of “gender identity” into law despite ministers earlier dropping plans to allow people to change their gender without a medical diagnosis, amid concerns about the potential impact on children. Nikki da Costa, Mr Johnson's former director of legislative affairs, warned against “rushing” the legislation.

Fears over the move were heightened last week when a new “easy read” summary of the consultation for people with learning disabilities explained that conversation therapy “tries to change your sexual orientation or the gender you want to be”.

‘A heavy dose of common sense’

A Government figure said there was concern “the sort of approach described here would force teachers to tell children that they are in the wrong body when they discuss gender.” The document was then withdrawn within hours of being published, sparking concerns that people with some disabilities have been shut out of the consultation process.

Lord Goldsmith, the environment minister, warned that it was “so important that we get this legislation right”, as he approvingly tweeted an article by a campaigner that warned of the risk of patients, teachers and therapists being “threatened with prison and professional ruin”.

The proposals are also opposed by Pauline Latham, the MP for Mid Derbyshire, together with Sally-Ann Hart, Miriam Cates and Ben Spencer, all of whom were among the 2019 intake of Conservative MPs.

Dr Spencer, a former NHS mental health consultant, said: “The law should not dictate what clinicians can or can’t discuss and explore with their patients as part of their treatment … Otherwise people could suffer irreversible damage from neglecting treatable underlying causes of their distress and receive instead radical medical or surgical procedures, which they later deeply regret.”

Ms Cates accused the Government of “cutting corners because of demands from a politically motivated campaign”.

A source close to Ms Truss said: “There will be a heavy dose of common sense applied to these proposals and they will be carefully crafted to strike the right balance between protecting under-18s, freedom of speech, and the right of consenting adults to get pastoral support.”

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