A letter to the NSPCC on conversion therapy

Following the news that the NSPCC had invited Sarah Ditum to a debate on trans kids, I sent them the note below regarding Ditum’s support for those advocating conversion therapy against kids. Since I wrote this yesterday evening, Kellie Maloney (also an odd choice for this debate) has pulled out which means it may not go ahead, although Kellie’s withdrawal appears to be because of concerns about personal attacks from Ditum rather than due to her controversial views on trans people.


I would like to thank the NSPCC for giving time to discuss the issue of treatment of trans children. As I am sure you are aware, this is an important but often overlooked topic in an area in which many involved in setting policy, including teachers, social workers, clinicians and politicians, are unaware of the facts and of the desperate need for more resources.

However, the as someone who had until now held the NSPCC in high regard, I was appalled to learn that you had selected speakers who will harm rather than help this issue. Sarah Ditum’s position on trans issues in general is controversial and well-documented, but I would particularly like to highlight to you two specific incidents regarding Ditum’s support for those practising conversion therapy.

Firstly, in 2014, Sarah Ditum wrote an article for the New Statesman, best characterised as “concern trolling”, regarding the suicide of Leelah Alcorn. (“If you believe trans lives matter, don’t share Leelah Alcorn’s suicide note on social media“) Leelah was a trans teenager who had been cut off from her peers and subjected to conversion therapy by her parents. After 5 months of this, Leelah posted a public suicide note on the social media site Tumblr in which she was highly critical of her parents, before stepping into traffic on Interstate 71. Despite this, Ditum wrote an article for the New Stateman in which she was highly critical of the media coverage highlighting the dangers of conversion therapy, downplayed the significance of the abuse and expressed support for Leelah’s parents. (She has not written similar articles concerning other events that do not feature trans people)

More recently, in May 2016 another article appeared in the New Statesman by Ditum (“What is gender, anyway?“) in which she supported clinicians practising conversion therapy on children, including Susan Bradley and Kenneth Zucker. Conversion therapy (sometimes also known as reparative therapy) is now widely abhorred by the medical community as not just ineffective but dangerous and cruel. It is banned in some Canadian provinces and US states and, in the UK, LGB conversion therapy has been condemned by all major counselling and psychotherapy bodies as well as the NHS. Zucker’s clinic in Canada was shut down after Ontario banned the practice of conversion therapy – Susan Bradley also campaigned against the ban. The centre hosting the clinic later issued a public apology for the practice as a result of an external audit, but Ditum dismisses this in her article as being “attacked for not conforming to the current trans political line” and Zucker being “ultimately forced from his job”.

It should not be the case that, in 2016, a children’s charity proposes to host a “debate” in which one of the panellists supports treatment that is now banned in many parts of the world as child abuse. Your supporters would be horrified if you hosted a debate with those advocating other forms of child abuse – please do not let trans kids be the exception.

I urge the NSPCC to reconsider the ethical implications of allowing this debate to proceed.

Kind Regards,

Councillor Zoe O’Connell
Cambridge City Council

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