British prime minister Boris Johnson has defended his decision to exclude transgender people from legal protection against conversion therapy, adding that transgender women should not be allowed to use women's changing rooms or to compete in women's sports.
Opposition from all mainstream LGBT+ groups in Britain to the U-turn on conversion therapy has forced the government to cancel an international conference on LGBT+ rights planned for the summer.
Mr Johnson said the decision to limit protection from conversion therapy to lesbian, gay and bisexual people reflected his government’s commitment to protecting those minorities. But he said the area of gender identity was a novel one and that “Gillick competence”, which can allow children under 16 to consent to medical treatment without parental permission, should not apply to transgender children.
“I don’t think that it’s reasonable for kids to be deemed so-called Gillick competent to take decisions about their gender or irreversible treatments that they may have. I think there should be parental involvement at the very least,” he said.
“I don’t think that biological males should be competing in female sporting events. Maybe that’s a controversial position but it just seems to me to be sensible. And I also happen to think that women should have spaces which are – whether it’s in hospitals or prisons or change rooms or wherever – which are dedicated to women. That’s as far as my thinking has developed on this issue.”
Mr Johnson's LGBT+ business champion Iain Anderson resigned on Tuesday over the government's stance on conversion therapy, accusing the prime minister of seeking to divide lesbian, gay and bisexual people from transgender people.
The prime minister's stance has also angered some Conservative MPs, and the Scottish Conservatives said they would continue to back a full ban on conversion therapy. Welsh Conservative Jamie Wallis, who last month became the first MP to come out as trans, said it was wrong to exclude protections for a whole group of people from an "abhorrent" practice.
Gay and lesbian Conservative MPs joined in the criticism, with William Wragg calling for the government to show some empathy. "If banning conversion therapy will stop the likes of me being subjected to mental cruelty in repressing my true self, why not so for someone who is trans?" he said.
Labour leader Keir Starmer said on Wednesday that all LGBT+ people should be protected from conversion therapy.
“That used to be the government’s position, and they’ve been flip flopping on this over the last few days. They need to stick to their promises. But I can’t help feeling that this is yet more distraction tactics from the government. They know that what is keeping people awake at night is the cost of living, whether they can pay their bills or not. In order to try and distract from that, the government wants to create an argument about conversion therapy,” he said.
The prime minister's statement reflects the view of fringe groups in Britain that have led a campaign against transgender rights in Britain with the support of right-wing media over the past four years. Last year, a Council of Europe report on rising hate against LGBT+ people named Britain alongside Hungary, Poland, Turkey and Russia on account of the "extensive and often virulent attacks" on LGBT+ rights.