Use the right word

But “conversion therapy” is the wrong label. Why does the BBC keep using it?

More than 100 organisations have pulled out of the UK’s first ever global LGBT+ conference over the government’s stance on conversion therapy.

The UK government had promised to ban conversion therapy but last week decided to exclude conversion therapy for transgender people in the ban.

Probably because it’s not conversion therapy. Sexual orientation is not the same as “gender identity.” The two are different. The most noticeable and consequential difference is that sexual orientation entails no surgical or pharmaceutical interventions at all. This discrepancy is why medical professionals need to be very cautious about agreeing with the self-diagnoses of adolescents who say they are trans: agreeing could be the first step to drugs or surgery or both that will cause irreversible changes to the teenage bodies that get them. Being lesbian or gay? Not so much. Literally speaking, not at all. No drugs, no surgery, no nothing, just live your life.

This is why the BBC really needs to report on the subject truthfully.

But who are the reporters on this story? Josh Parry, LGBT producer, and Lauren Moss, LGBT correspondent. Is it the LG part or the T part? Here again, the two need to be uncoupled. T isn’t the same as LG, and it isn’t much like it, either.

According to NHS England, conversion therapy tries to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

Then NHS England is wrong, because that’s apples and oranges.

But the LGBT+ Consortium, an umbrella body for LGBT+ community organisations, has issued a statement branding the government’s U-turn on conversion therapy “abhorrent”.

Eighty-two member organisations of the consortium have signed an open letter, which is written by LGBT+ charity and campaign group Stonewall, pulling out of the conference.

Stonewall is not the solution here, Stonewall is the problem. Mashing the T together with the LG is a mistake.

A Terrence Higgins Trust spokesperson said: “Trans rights are human rights – progress without or at the expense of trans people is not progress. We stand together and will not be divided.”

But it’s not at the expense of. Not rushing to provide surgeries or puberty blockers is not an injury to trans people and people who think they’re trans but change their minds. It’s first do no harm.

Boris Johnson has previously called the practice of conversion therapy “repulsive and abhorrent” and had promised plans to outlaw it on a number of separate occasions. However the plans to do so have since changed; meaning the legislation will mean conversion therapy to attempt to change people’s sexuality will be outlawed, but those practices carried out to try to change people’s gender identity will not.

But what if there’s no such thing as “people’s gender identity”? What if there’s just a spectrum of feelings about one’s sex or gender or both? What if some or most or even all such feelings are highly malleable and temporary? What if they’re social and cultural rather than physical? What if they’re not actually a good reason to make drastic irreversible changes to one’s body? What if it really is better to be slow and cautious rather than speedy and reckless?

Responding to the legislation on Friday, Nikki da Costa, a former director of legislative affairs at No 10, said elements of the law would have had “profound consequences for children struggling with gender dysphoria”.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Doctors, therapists and parents would be deterred from exploring with a child any feelings of what else may be going on for fear of being told they’re trying to change a child’s identity”, adding that it was “deeply concerning”.

And she’s not wrong. Even if she’s one of Boris Johnson’s very best friends, she’s not wrong.

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