Neale Hanvey – 2022 Speech on the Online Safety Bill

The speech made by Neale Hanvey, the Alba MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, in the House of Commons on 5 December 2022.

I approach my contribution from the perspective of the general principle, the thread that runs through all the amendments on the paper today on safety, reform of speech, illegal content and so on. That thread is how we deal with the harm landscape and the real-world impact of issues such as cyber-bullying, revenge porn, predatory grooming, self-harm or indeed suicide forums.

There is a serious risk to children and young people, particularly women and girls, on which there has been no debate allowed: the promulgation of gender ideology pushed by Mermaids and other so-called charities, which has created a toxic online environment that silences genuine professional concern, amplifies unquestioned affirmation and brands professional therapeutic concern, such as that of James Esses, a therapist and co-founder of Thoughtful Therapists, as transphobic. That approach, a non-therapeutic and affirmative model, has been promoted and fostered online.

The reality is that adolescent dysphoria is a completely normal thing. It can be a response to disruption from adverse childhood experiences or trauma, it can be a feature of autism or personality disorders or it can be a response to the persistence of misogynistic social attitudes. Dysphoria can present and manifest in many different ways, not just gender. If someone’s gender dysphoria persists even after therapeutic support, I am first in the queue to defend that person and ensure their wishes are respected and protected, but it is an absolute falsity to give young people information that suggests there is a quick-fix solution.

It is not normal to resolve dysphoria with irreversible so-called puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones, or with radical, irreversible, mutilating surgery. Gender ideology is being reinforced everywhere online and, indeed, in our public services and education system, but it is anything but progressive. It attempts to stuff dysphoric or gender non-conforming young people into antiquated, regressive boxes of what a woman is and what a man is, and it takes no account of the fact that it is fine to be a butch or feminine lesbian, a femboy or a boy next door, an old duffer like me, an elite gay sportsman or woman, or anything in between.

Transitioning will be right for some, but accelerating young people into an affirmative model is absolutely reckless. What do those who perpetuate this myth want to achieve? What is in it for them? Those are fundamental questions that we have to ask. The reality is that the affirmative model is the true conversion therapy—trans-ing away the gay and nullifying same-sex attraction.

I urge all right hon. and hon. Members to watch the four-part documentary “Dysphoric” on YouTube. It is so powerful and shows the growing number of young people who have been transitioned rapidly into those services, and the pain, torment and regret that they have experienced through the irreversible effects of their surgery and treatments. The de-transitioners are bearing the impacts. There is no follow-up to such services, and those people are just left to get on with it. Quite often, their friends in the trans community completely abandon them when they detransition.

I pay particular tribute to Sinead Watson and Ritchie Herron, who are both de-transitioners, for their courage and absolutely incredible resilience in dealing with this issue online and shining a light on this outrage. I also pay tribute to the LGB Alliance, For Women Scotland, and Sex Matters, which have done a huge amount of work to bring this matter to the fore.

Mermaids—the organisation—continues to deny that there is any harm, co-morbidities or serious iatrogenic impacts from hormone treatment or radical surgery. That is a lie; it is not true. Mermaids has promoted the illegal availability of online medicines that do lasting, irreversible damage to young people.

I pay tribute to the Government for the Cass review, which is beginning to shine a light on the matter. I welcome the interim report, but we as legislators must make a connection between what is happening online, how it is policed in society and the message that is given out there. We must link harm to online forums and organisations, as well as to frontline services.

I point out with real regret that I came across a document being distributed through King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust from an organisation called CliniQ, which runs an NHS clinic for the trans community. The document has lots of important safety and health advice, but it normalises self-harm as sexual

“Play that involves blood, cutting and piercing.”

It advises that trans-identifying females can go in

“stealth if it is possible for them”

to private gay clubs, and gives examples of how to obtain sex by deception. It is unacceptable that such information is provided on NHS grounds.

Speaking out about this in Scotland has been a very painful experience for many of us. We have faced doxing, threats, harassment and vilification. In 2019, I raised my concerns about safeguarding with my colleagues in Government. A paper I wrote had this simple message: women are not being listened to in the gender recognition reform debate. I approached the then Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People, Shirley-Anne Somerville, whose brief included equality. She was someone I had known for years and considered a friend; she knew my professional background, my family and, of course, my children. She told me she that she shared my concerns—she has children of her own—but she instructed me to be silent. She personally threatened and attempted to bully friends of mine, insisting that they abandon me. I pay great tribute to Danny Stone and the Antisemitism Policy Trust for their support in guiding me through what was an incredibly difficult period of my life. I also pay tribute to the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy).

I can see that you are anxious for me close, Madam Deputy Speaker, so I will—[Interruption.] I will chance my arm a bit further, then.

I am not on my pity pot here; this is not about me. It is happening all over Scotland. Women in work are being forced out of employment. If Governments north and south of the border are to tackle online harms, we must follow through with responsible legislation. Only last week, the First Minister of Scotland, who denied any validity to the concerns I raised in 2019, eventually admitted they were true. But her response must be to halt her premature and misguided legislation, which is without any protection for the trans community, women or girls. We must make the connection from online harms all the way through to meaningful legislation at every stage.