The mental health of the UK’s transgender community is at crisis point, with many people “hanging by a string”, professional bodies and support groups have told the Guardian.
The stark warnings follow a week of intensified public debate on transgender rights as the government moved to exclude trans people from the ban on conversion practices.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission has also issued guidance that transgender people could legitimately be excluded from single-sex services if the reasons were “justifiable and proportionate”.
The focus on these issues has raised concerns among experts, who see a direct line between statements made by politicians and individual well-being. “There is strong evidence that minorities experience higher levels of stress when their rights are debated,” said Dr Adam Jowett, chair of the British Psychological Society’s Sexualities Section.
“The mental health of the trans community has been affected not just in the last week, but in the last few years: by the perception that the government is hostile to trans rights, the feeling that they are not protected and the fact that it’s happening against a backdrop of hate crimes and rising transphobia.”
Jowett conducted research for the UK government into conversion practices last year ahead of its consultation on a ban.
He stressed that all psychological and medical bodies in the UK – including the Royal College of Psychiatrists and the British Medical Association – were united in the view that the practice was unethical, potentially dangerous and unsupported by proofs.
“We believe it is absolutely necessary that transgender people have the same level of protection as everyone else.”
Over the past week, trans support services have reported an increase in demand: anti-abuse charity Galop, for example, said it was receiving calls to its helpline “from trans people who feel drained and discouraged by their exclusion from the government’s proposed ban on conversion therapy and the conversation surrounding it on social media and in the news.”
Meanwhile, individual families have contacted the Guardian privately to express their ‘desperation’ at what has been described as ‘a perfect storm of transphobic misunderstanding and misinformation, which is hurting the very vulnerable young people they claim to protect “.
“All LGBT young people, but trans young people in particular, are suffering from a mental health crisis,” said Dominic Arnall, chief executive of Just Like Us, a UK-wide charity that works with people. schools to support LGBT+ youth. “He is driven by the constant drip of negativity from government, the media and others, creating a climate that says they are not worthy of the same human rights and freedoms that we all enjoy. “.
“The last week in particular has been extremely difficult for young trans people. They hear the Prime Minister describe conversion therapy as “abhorrent”, but not ban it for trans people. »
Oscar Hoyle, who runs Blossom, a support service for LGBT+ young adults in Surrey, said: “You can’t look at a computer without seeing something that challenges a fundamental aspect of who you are.
“It puts the young people we work with in a position where they never know who is going to support them and who is going to wonder who they are.”
“Members of our community are struggling and I know from experience that the mental health of a lot of trans and non-binary people right now is definitely hanging by a string,” they said.
But they added: “As trans people, I think we develop a really unique sense of resilience, which means that no matter what we face, our community will continue to move forward. Things are incredibly difficult, but I don’t want to underestimate the true value of our community, the broader LGBTQ+ community, and the allies who come together to support and uplift trans people.
This exclusion of transgender people from the ban on conversion practices led to the resignation of a senior equality adviser and the cancellation of the government’s flagship international LGBTQ+ conference in the face of a massive withdrawal of support from stakeholders.
Boris Johnson went on to say that ‘biological men’ should not participate in women’s sporting events and that women should have ‘dedicated’ spaces in hospitals, prisons and changing rooms.
This latest statement reflects the new – non-statutory – guidance issued by the EHRC on single-sex services. Critics argue that this focuses on excluding trans people, and especially trans women, from being at risk of unlawful discrimination. The advice was welcomed by gender-aware feminists as “a big step forward”.
Helen Belcher, chair of education and advocacy group TransActual and Lib Dem adviser, said: ‘I’m furious that our equality body is telling me I’m a second class citizen and can’t do things only if everyone agrees with this. Now every trans woman in the country is getting ready for a pee fight. It’s vile.
“I made the transition about 20 years ago. At first you feel very vulnerable, as if your appearance is being watched, but then your confidence grows. But in recent months, all that fear has returned, the same feelings I thought I left behind 20 years ago.”