The Government’s proposals for a broad conversion therapy ban will harm children who seek out support, the Association of Christian Teachers (ACT) has warned.
In a letter to the Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi, it said current plans leave teachers and school counsellors exposed to criminal prosecution and therefore reluctant to engage in conversations with children who are confused about their identity and sexuality.
The organisation said it should not be a criminal offence for education professionals to express the view “that God made humans male and female, in his image, and has reserved sex for the marriage of one man and one woman”.
The letter, sent in response to the Government’s ongoing consultation on a conversion therapy ban, warns that the broad definitions of ‘counsellors’ and ‘conversations’ in the proposals will be “highly likely” to result in Christian teachers being prosecuted for discussing these matters.
It states: “The proposals will harm children who may need to talk about this sensitive and personal area of gender/sexuality with a school professional”, especially those who, “despite feelings of dysphoria” do not want to ‘change sex’ .
Discussions…should not be classified as conversion therapy, despite the insistence of lobbying groups
“Allegations leading to criminal convictions and a bar from working with children, could result for any adult who does not affirm a child into a trajectory towards changing sex/gender. This would inevitably mean that children will remain dangerously unsupported due to teachers/professionals being wary of criminal prosecution.”
It added that a broad ban could infringe on children’s human rights, saying: “Should any child or young person voluntarily request prayer for unwanted dysphoric feelings, the offer of prayer through a pastoral conversation, even in line with the child’s wishes, might be criminalised under the proposals.”
Autism and SEND
The organisation also pointed out that children with autism or special educational needs and disabilities are more likely to experience gender dysphoria than others, as many of them deal with atypical neurological traits and are “aware of being different from their peers”.
It said that affirming their confusion means “radical medical or surgical procedures could be the eventual destination for children who need measured and complex support”.
ACT reminded the Government of its duty to protect children from ‘progressive’ and aggressive political ideologues, saying: “Nuanced discussions with children to help them explore issues of gender and sexuality and their distress should not be classified as conversion therapy, despite the insistence of lobbying groups.
“To view the complexity around supporting a child experiencing gender distress as either ‘affirm’ or ‘convert’ is over simplistic and deeply damaging. Professionals should be free to explore these issues with children without fear of acting illegally.”
Schools with a Christian ethos, particularly those which hold to the biblical understanding of sexuality and God’s creation of mankind as male and female, could have that ethos undermined by the proposals if the state interferes in its pastoral work, the group warns.
Our members have no desire to become criminals
ACT’s Executive Officer Lizzie Harewood said: “We therefore very much hope and pray that these proposals will be dropped in their current form, and that you will take these points seriously in your discussions within the department. Our members have no desire to become criminals, and as a Christian organisation, we place a high value on submitting to and supporting our government.”
She added: “We also ask you to lend your support to a less broad definition of ‘conversion therapy’ for the sake of both children and teachers.”
ACT represents teachers, learning assistants, student teachers, governors and other school workers from around the UK.