A free speech champion and rising star of conservative politics,
Originally published in The Australian, Tuesday 28 January 2020, Bernard Lane.
Amanda Stoker, has launched a petition to build support for a stand against the “dangerous and radical ideas” and “completely unreasonable” demands of the transgender activist agenda. The Queensland Liberal senator has quietly joined this toxic identity politics debate with a preamble on her personal webpage saying most Australians recognise the freedom of others “to live their life the way they want.” “But that doesn’t mean we abandon truth. It doesn’t mean we abandon common sense or our understanding of basic biology,” she writes.
“You do have a right to teach your children they are born as either a boy or a girl and that gender isn’t something we can choose.
“You do have a right to keep women’s sport for women.
“You do have a right to know what your child is being taught about gender and sexuality in school.
“You do have a right to protect children from hormone treatment and surgical procedures.
“I will continue to stand up for common sense and objective truth — but I need to know I have your support.”
Senator Stoker, 37, a former barrister and prosecutor, and outspoken Christian, took the Senate spot of former attorney-general George Brandis in 2018. In her maiden speech, she defended liberty of conscience, thought and speech.
Critics of trans activism — and of “gender affirming” hormone treatment and surgery for under-18s who feel “born in the wrong body” — face denunciation as “hateful transphobes”, vexatious complaints and online harassment, as well as real-world intimidation. The latest target is Oxford University professor of history, Selina Todd, who has been given security guards to take her to lectures after students alerted her to trans activist threats. She defends the sex-based rights and protections of women from biologically intact men who declare a female “gender identity”.
Trans activists argue trans people are vulnerable and victimised, and that opposition to their rights is driven by rightwing religious bigotry.
Critics of medicalised gender transition of children include Christians and conservatives but also atheist psychiatrists, young adults who regret hormonal treatment and surgery, former gender clinic staff, parents with progressive politics, anti-queer theory lesbians and gay men, radical feminists, and mothers who were tom boys. Not all activists for trans rights are trans themselves, and there are trans adults who deplore the aggressive tactics and oppose medical interventions with “gender non-conforming” children.
Senator Stoker told The Australian everyone was entitled to support and respect, but inclusion of trans-identifying adults could not “mean we neglect our duties to children.
“Providing chemical, hormonal or surgical treatments to children without the capacity to truly understand their implications and provide their consent, is wrong,” she said.
“There is a lack of research showing these treatments are the best way to deal with gender issues, and a growing body of evidence that they are harmful.
“The trend of treating any speech which questions the wisdom of gender-transitioning treatments for children as ‘discrimination’, has the perverse effect of denying people with gender issues the best treatment that research, medicine and psychology could deliver.
“The scientific method should prevail here, not hard gender ideology.”
Practitioners disagree how to respond to a surge in teenagers, mostly girls, who turn up at gender clinics claiming to be boys, often with a host of problems including mental illness, autism, awkward same-sex attraction and family trauma.
The influential pro-trans “affirmative” approach regards children as “experts” in their gender identity, encourages gender change and sometimes medical intervention to mimic the opposite-sex body. Sceptics of the affirmative model say the trans declarations of troubled under-18s may mask the real issues.
Next week, a parliamentary committee in Queensland will hold a public hearing into a draft law that would criminalise “conversion therapy”. The term conjures up images of coercive, hurtful attempts to change the fixed sexual orientation of an adult. Queensland’s bill extends this to any perceived attempt to change a child’s feelings of gender, which may be at odds with biological sex. Psychology sees youth identity as a work in progress marked by experimentation and influence, especially around puberty.
Worried health practitioners, Christians and women opposed to “gender ideology” accuse Queensland’s Palaszczuk government of using the spectre of past conversion therapy as cover to mandate the affirmative model with its risky medical interventions. The ban on conversion therapy would not apply to hormonal interventions and surgery that “affirm” a child’s transgender shift.
Advocates for the affirmative model, which has been endorsed by medical bodies, say its treatments are “life-saving” for suicidal trans youth, whose high rates of mental illness reflect their stigma in a transphobic world. State Health Minister Steven Miles said there was “overwhelming evidence that conversion therapy is harmful and that it correlates with high rates of suicide”, and the government rejected the view that “being LGBTIQ is a disorder that requires correction”. But Senator Stoker said the bill was an attempt to “silence dissent” and “entrench hard-left gender ideology”.
“No reasonable person supports what comes to mind when the words ‘conversion therapy’ are used — but this law goes much further,” she told The Australian.
She cited “credible minds in medicine, psychology and law” who complain the bill is a threat to ethical and necessary exploration of personal problems and social pressures that may help explain the recent teen epidemic of gender dysphoria (the distress of feeling “born in the wrong body”). A submission to the committee from a GP with many years’ experience in adolescent mental health and gender issues says: “I can scarcely believe that the state government would threaten me — in the area that I specialise (in) — that good quality medicine could be punished with 18 months of prison.”
The GP, whose name was withheld, says a majority of young patients recover from gender dysphoria with professional care, supportive counselling and treatment of co-existing mental illness or help with autism.
“If you were to pass this law, I would feel compelled by force of law to discharge all of (these) patients from my care, and would not be able to take on new patients,” the GP says.
“Non-harmful, sensitive, respectful, patient-centred counselling should never be made illegal; to criminalise this would be an abuse of government authority and massive overreach.”
Before the post-2000 spike in teen dysphoria, the condition was typically diagnosed in a small number of pre-school boys and the vast majority grew out of it, following cautious psychotherapy or “watchful waiting”, and many emerged as young gay or bisexual adults comfortable in their bodies.
“The drastic medical interventions that accompany a gender affirmative approach and which are being applied to ‘transition’ many young people who would otherwise go on to identify as gay or lesbian would be more rightly be regarded as the ultimate ‘conversion therapy’,” the Sydney-based Feminist Legal Clinic says in its submission on the Queensland bill.
After mainstream medical bodies were blindsided by consultation on the bill being staged during the Christmas-New Year break, there has been confusion about whether or not late submissions will be allowed, or who will be asked to testify at a state parliamentary committee hearing pushed back from February 3 to February 7. The Australian sought clarification from the committee.
Meanwhile, after years of scant media reporting, the intensifying global debate over the affirmative model is getting more mainstream attention.
In the UK last week, 23-year-old Keira Bell, who regrets taking hormone suppression drugs that interfere with puberty, joined a High Court case arguing under-18 patients at the NHS Tavistock gender clinic cannot give informed consent to this “experimental” treatment.
“I believe that the current affirmative system put in place by the Tavistock is inadequate as it does not allow for exploration of these gender dysphoric feelings, nor does it seek to find the underlying causes of this condition,” she said.