Legal Recognition of Non-binary Gender Identities — [Sir Roger Gale in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:30 pm on 23 May 2022.

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Photo of Nicholas Fletcher Nicholas Fletcher Conservative, Don Valley 4:30, 23 May 2022

I thank the hon. Member for her comments. I will reflect on that later as I go through my speech. But such cases are growing exponentially at the moment, and I am deeply concerned about it.

I do not want to get too technical on this, but there are certain times in our life when certain areas develop. The first two years are crucial, with the development of the front part of our brain. The same can be said about the nerve endings in our eyes: if those do not join properly by the time we are four or five, they never will. Puberty is also a time of development, and many young people are now questioning their gender at that crucial time. If we stop that developmental process in its tracks, before puberty, the results can be life changing. I believe that making non-binary a legal identity, and having an acceptance that that is an easy path to take, will have hugely detrimental effects on many young people, when I know as a certain fact that they are not old enough or mature enough to make that decision and understand the long-term and life-changing consequences. They are children; they are not adults. Therefore, any such decisions for children below the age of 18 must be avoided.

I am also unsure who is to decide that a child is not a boy or a girl, and when. The child cannot decide when it is born, so who decides? Doctors have always decided the biological sex, and there are rules in place for that. What about a 10-year-old? Can a child decide at that age, or is it still a parental choice? All the time, one of the few consistencies that a person can have in this mixed-up world is taken away. Is society really to say that he or she cannot decide whether they are a boy or a girl, or feel they are, before they have gone through puberty?

The interim Cass report said that we are letting our young people down by not having enough centres for kids who believe that they are suffering from gender dysphoria, but there are those who disagree. I have heard from a senior mental health specialist that the lack of appointments is actually saving us from a tsunami. That specialist is not alone in that view, so perhaps clinics are not the answer; perhaps they are. Perhaps education is. Perhaps there could be a standard curriculum—a single piece on what this looks like practically. It would be just basics: “This is what a life can look like and how it can never be changed once medication starts.”

Let us also educate parents not just to say yes in order to keep the peace, but to be strong and get kids on the right path. Let us give teachers the ability to say no to this issue at school; they want to. They want to teach kids and watch them shine, not fall apart. And please let us stop with this blurring of lines and bending to every whim that a lobby group asks for. Let us ask ourselves why a lobby group wants to work in this space. Why does it want to put kids even as young as 10 on to puberty blockers, especially when it knows that most who do take puberty blockers end up on further drugs—leading to infertility, and facial hair for girls—and in a place where no one else is.

It has been said that people are taking their own lives because they are so confused prior to treatment. But these struggling individuals are taking their own lives after treatment, too, so that really is no answer. We have to protect our children while they are children.

The next problem is what happens in single-sex spaces. This is deeply concerning. If we were to work around it to make it work safely for women, which I believe would be imperative, the necessary changes to our buildings would cost billions of pounds. Why should a female prisoner have to share a prison with a man who identifies as non-binary or a trans person? Why should a lady have to share a changing room with a man? Why should a woman have to follow a pre-op trans woman into a toilet cubicle? Why should a girl at school have to get changed in front of a boy? Why should a girl have to share a dormitory with a boy? Whether the girls think that that is okay or not, I am sure that their mums and dads do not. I do not believe it is safe; I do not believe it is decent; and I do not believe it is right. Women are not only entitled to safe single-sex spaces; those spaces are also absolutely necessary. Society has been this way for centuries. It works, and it should not be casually put aside.

Sport is another issue. I am not the greatest sportsperson who has ever lived; I never have been, but I do understand competition, the feeling of winning, and wanting to strive to be the best. I speak in schools whenever I get the chance, and I encourage all children to aim high in life and not be frightened of competition. Am I to tell the girls in a school, “Don’t bother competing, because you’ll never stand on the podium at the highest level. The best you can hope for is second when you compete against a trans woman. Everyone will know you have won, but I’m afraid that gold medal is forever out of your reach”? That is wrong. Biology matters and biological sex is real. Men and women are built differently from birth, and remain different throughout their lives. To pretend otherwise is to ignore reality. To make non-binary a legal entity reaches beyond what many people can think of. That is why I cannot support the petition.

Am I being unfair? I do not think so. I am being, I hope, realistic. The vast majority of people in my constituency know that men and women exist and that they are different—they are male and female. There may be people who feel that their gender is non-binary, but they are all biological men and women. What is my response to the genuine concerns behind the petition? My first ask is: leave our kids alone. Kids have enough to cope with as it is. Let them decide when they are old enough and mature enough to make those decisions. I hear so much about complex families and complex lives, so let us not make them any more complex. That would be unwise.

While I am here, I want to speak to parents. If their child comes home with those concerns, they should talk to them but be strong. They should not ever give in to them or to peer pressure from other adults. Their child was born either a boy or a girl; they should be proud of who their child is and tell them to be proud too. Wherever their interests lie, parents should hope and encourage them. They should be part of their life and talk to them—talk to them all the time. However, parents should push back on this. Sometimes parents have to be cruel to be kind—children will thank their parents for that in the long run. I have one further thought on that. If children say that they are unhappy, think for a second about how unhappy they will be when their best friend is having a child and they cannot; when their best friends are dressing up beautifully and they are having to shave. What makes you sure that they will be happy then?

Single-sex spaces are exactly that, and they should stay that way. When an individual enters one of those spaces, their sex is what should matter, not their assumed gender or how they feel that given day. To endanger women, or even to make them feel uncomfortable, is not fair. Some surveys reportedly show that people are okay with that, but who has been asked and where were they asked? What were the questions and how were they phrased? Have they knocked on the doors in my constituency? I know the people there, and I know that they agree with me.

Turning to sport, again, it is just not right. Certain sports, such as rugby, may carry out risk assessments that exonerate them from joining this argument, but please shout up. Sport is sport, and if it is not fair, then it ain’t right. I ask the biggest voices in the arena—the sportsmen and women at the top of their game and the pundits, who have all earned their money from the public and say that they want to give back—not to blow in the wind but to use their position to speak out on this subject. That would truly be giving back, by giving every child a chance to have a great childhood and to dream big, as they did. They should speak as one voice and push back.

I have read many books on this subject of late, and spent much time trying to see a different side to this, but ruining young lives, making women feel unsafe and taking away the sporting ambitions of half the population just is not right.

I have one final argument. I have heard that this is what other countries have done, and therefore so should we. I do not represent another country; I represent this one, which I believe is by far the best. Do not tell me that England is a bad place; it is not. It has its issues, as all other countries do, but I truly believe that it is absolutely wonderful. We should never do something because another country has done it; we should do something because it is right.

I am afraid that I cannot back a movement that may rob a child of their life. I could never back a community who wanted to put a biological male in a female changing room. I will never back anyone who wants to put a biological male in a female sports event, be that at Wimbledon or on a school field. In all fairness, I do not think any of us should back that.

I may have come across quite strong. I feel that I have to. I started by saying that I want the community who feel non-binary to know that I of course accept that they exist—I see them, I hear them, I feel for them and I want to help them. I say to them, “We are a tolerant nation and we accept you as you are. At 18 we should be able to give you a person to talk to—someone who can help.” That we must do. Anyone who abuses that community needs taking to task. If an offence is committed, they should be prosecuted. However, I am afraid that the course of life, that a small minority wish to embrace, comes with far-reaching implications for the rest of society. As such, I am afraid that I cannot support the petition.