What do the public responses to the Cass Review mean?

17 May 2024

Carys Moseley continues her series on the Cass Review, looking at how politicians and campaigners have responded to the report – read parts 1, 2 and 3

Many prominent people have expressed public responses to the Cass Review of gender identity services for children and adolescents.

The nature of these responses is of real importance to Christians as they are shaping the culture of public debate.

Not only that but some go significantly further, purporting to give moral advice.

As Christians we need to test and weigh all these responses to discern their meaning, so as not to follow the spirit of the age blindly.

There are three basic categories of response: that of politicians, that of LGBT organisations, and that of the gender-critical movement promoting the unforgiveness of critics and ‘late converts’.

Public figures who have had to acknowledge the value of the Cass Review

One of the most extraordinary things that has happened is that Labour MP Wes Streeting has commended the Cass Review.

Streeting tweeted a response on behalf of the Labour Party supporting the Cass Review and promising they would implement its recommendations. Labour Women’s Declaration, which has campaigned for policy to be based on sex not gender, thanked Wes Streeting. All this ties in with Streeting admitting he was wrong to have said ‘trans women are women’, and even admitting Stonewall was wrong on this issue.

The second major public figure to commend the Cass Review was Sir Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer for England.

This is what he said:

“I think it is a very clear corrective to any area of medicine in fact where people are running ahead of the evidence, particularly where there are potential significant side effects or long-term effects from treatment… I think this is really an opportunity to rethink that completely.”

This is extremely important given that Sir Chris Whitty had previously been silent on transgender issues. We can only speculate as to why.

The third major figure to provide an unexpected commendation of the Cass Review was Mark Russell, CEO of the Children’s Society, who called its publication ‘a watershed moment’.

This is what he said:

“Children and young people exploring their gender identity still face unacceptable barriers in getting the support they critically need, highlighting that there are numerous oversights in how gender identity services are currently designed and delivered… This report should mark a watershed moment; an opportunity to dismantle the existing barriers and foster an environment which places the wellbeing and safety of all children at its heart.”

This is extraordinary because the Children’s Society website shows that it has until recently promoted transgender ideology.

In this article on the website an activist provides supporters with a glossary entitled ‘Useful language for you to know’.

‘Detransition’ is not in the vocabulary. Let’s hope the Cass Review’s call for support for detransitioners will change that.

Dawn Butler MP misled Parliament

In the government-led debate on the Cass Review on 15 April, Dawn Butler MP (Labour) claimed that around 100 studies had been left out of the Cass Review, and said there was a need to know why. This was then reported by Pink News.

However, science writer Ben Ryan dissected this claim, finding that it was based on ignoring Cass’s use of official quality rankings for scientific papers. By the end of the week Dame Hilary Cass told the Times that this disinformation was ‘unforgivable’ and had started when an influencer put up claims the day before the review was published.

The following Monday 22 April, Dawn Butler apologised in Parliament, stating that she had got the claim from a Stonewall briefing, and that in quoting it ‘I may have inadvertently misled the House’. She said she had spent the weekend talking to Stonewall and Dr Cass.

The battle is on in Wales to make the best of the Cass Review

On the day the Cass Review was published, Tonia Antoniazzi, Labour MP for Gower, criticised politicians for shying away from the issues.

At the time, the Welsh Government made a rather bland public statement. Two weeks later, it said that there won’t be any prescription of puberty blockers for under-18s in Wales. Things should have been left there, given that Welsh children get referred to gender identity services in England.

The Welsh Conservatives brought forward a debate and tabled a motion for the Welsh Parliament to accept the recommendations of the Cass Review. They probably the saw this as a smart move, but Labour then put forward an amendment proposing instead only to note that NHS England found puberty blockers were not proven to be safe.

This softer amendment, which was voted for unanimously, sadly captures more accurately the reality of the Cass Review, which is that it does not totally ban puberty blockers.

I think we can see that these three different statements by the Welsh Government show there is a battle going on within it about the best treatment for children.

Cass Review could affect RSE and transgender schools guidance in England and Wales

The signs are that the Cass Review is to be used to influence the drafting of guidance for schools; specifically, RSE guidance in England and transgender guidance for schools in Wales.

The Welsh Government’s aforementioned amendment stated it would continue to develop its transgender guidance for schools, taking the Cass Review and stakeholder views into account. This means there may be a public consultation on the matter.

In England, the Education Secretary Gillian Keegan admitted she learnt a lot from the Cass Review, and will no longer say ‘trans women are women’.

This week, she has issued draft RSE guidelines which are currently being consulted on. The BBC reported that the draft guidelines says schools should not teach about gender identity. At the same time, the proposed guidelines still advise on use of external resources, which shows an ambiguity that needs to be ironed out – external organisations may be able to slip inappropriate teaching through the cracks.

The downfall of Humza Yousaf

The Cass Review had a major effect on Scottish politics.

One journalist suggests with hindsight that the debate over pausing puberty blockers in Scotland brought down the former First Minister, Humza Yousaf.

There was a split between the ruling SNP and the Scottish Greens, who were in government with them. Patrick Harvie, leader of the Greens, refused to accept the Cass Review, saying it was being politicised to attack trans rights. Alba MSP Ash Regan tabled a vote of no confidence against him. The SNP-Green power-sharing agreement was by this time collapsing. Scottish NHS bodies accepted the Cass Review recommendations.

Then the disgruntled Scottish Greens backed the Scottish Conservatives’ vote of no confidence against Humza Yousaf. This brought about his downfall. The Greens claimed they no longer had faith in the SNP Scottish Government as ‘progressive’.

In truth, it sounds like they threw the toys out of the pram and showed their ideology as unfit for government.

Belgium and the Netherlands call for restricting puberty blockers

The Cass Review is having an impact internationally as well. Soon after it was published, both Belgium and the Netherlands called for restricting puberty blockers. This is truly extraordinary given that the use of puberty blockers was promoted by the Dutch gender identity service.

The Telegraph reported that three doctors from Leuven in Belgium found only 15% of distressed children who underwent their natural puberty subsequently ‘changed sex’ as adults.

Disapproval of ‘transition’ for children and adolescents has also increased recently in the Netherlands. There are now calls for a Cass-like public inquiry into transgender procedures for children in the Netherlands, precisely because the Cass Review looked into the so-called ‘Dutch protocol’.

LGBT organisations’ responses

Stonewall’s response was very muted. Indeed, it seems keen to hide its previous support for the very ideology that led to the problems Cass looks at. Importantly, Stonewall isn’t saying it was wrong previously.

Given that Cass leaves the door open for transition for some children, Stonewall appears to be lying low right now.

The response of Mermaids has been more extensive.

Mermaids has correctly pointed out that the Cass Review does not actually call for an absolute ban on social transition for children. This has regrettably given Mermaids a wide open door for continued lobbying. However, in its public statements Mermaids is more keen to criticise NHS England for going ahead to restrict puberty blockers even before the final report of the Cass Review was published.

Significantly, Mermaids says it will continue to advocate for ‘supportive schools’.

Public refusal of Hilary Cass to forgive her critics

From a Christian standpoint one of the most significant features of the public reaction has had to do with lack of forgiveness – and it has come from the gender-critical activists who have most championed the Cass Review.

Dame Hilary Cass herself lashed out saying the actions of critics who had spread the above-mentioned disinformation were ‘unforgivable’.

Her words were:

“If you deliberately try to undermine a report that has looked at the evidence of children’s healthcare, then that’s unforgivable. You are putting children at risk by doing that.”

Is this really an appropriate attitude for the author of a major report advising the NHS and the government? If there is to be no forgiveness, then essentially Cass is barring her critics from ever being allowed to change their minds.

Cass should be careful here, for as I’ve already highlighted last week, she doesn’t actually oppose ‘transition’ for all children. She still leaves the door open even for puberty blockers for some children, despite her own evidence.

What will children who are now put through her puberty blocker research trial only to be damaged by it have to say in five or ten years’ time? Will they forgive her?

Julie Bindel refuses to forgive ‘converts’ to the Cass Review

Journalist Julie Bindel said in an incendiary article for Unherd that cowardly converts to the Cass Review would ‘not be forgiven’. According to Julie Bindel, for Yvette Cooper not to define who is a woman correctly is ‘unforgivable’, because ‘she is a public servant’.

It’s not clear why and by whom serious errors of judgment by public servants are not to be forgiven.

JK Rowling says Harry Potter stars should ‘save their apologies’ for others

On X (Twitter) a follower told JK Rowling he was waiting for Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson, the Harry Potter stars, to apologise to her for their opposition to her stance on sex and transgender issues. He said he believed that they would be ‘safe in the knowledge that you will forgive them’.

She replied that they were ‘not safe’, that they should save their apologies ‘for traumatized detransitioners and vulnerable women’.

What should we make of this loud preaching of unforgiveness alongside the impact the Cass Review is meant to be having?

The Cass Review and our post-Christian society

The Cass Review is the product of a post-Christian society where a vision of human nature and mental health is increasingly distant from many people. It is the product of a deeply disturbed society where some are desperately trying to salvage institutions from collapsing.

It strikes me that many responses to the review are borne out of fear.

First, politicians fear voters not voting for them. This may well be one of the main factors behind Wes Streeting’s statement, and why Labour Women’s Declaration commended him.

Similarly, Gillian Keegan may genuinely have learnt a lot but she too relies on voters to be a politician. Maya Forstater from Sex Matters commended her, understanding that a democratic society needs politicians to govern.

This means acceptance of U-turns or apologies by politicians is important.

This brings me to the second fear, which is that the recommendations of the Cass Review might not be implemented. Surely this is what motivates the said campaigners to welcome these politicians’ U-turns, not to snub them as opportunistic.

Change requires hope

The fear behind some people’s unforgiveness is on a wholly different level, or is it?

At one level, it is a crude attempt to set down limits and state that certain behaviours are totally unacceptable in public life.

I think those that did this fear or believe that forgiveness really is merely excusing people’s wrong actions, and that it permits them to continue causing damage.

The problem with this approach is twofold: forgiveness is not excusing people, and not allowing forgiveness – and encouraging unforgiveness – closes the door to persuading current gender ideologues that they need to change their minds for the good of society.

If everyone takes this attitude, the huge damage to children and adults from gender ideology will just continue.

Transgender ideology has taken hold of a great many people in recent years, and to treat support for it as unforgiveable will mean that many of these people will react defensively and simply stay stuck in their ways.

Change of attitude can and does happen when people are given a Christian vision of life and health. People who were previously persuaded by the ideology into going through ‘gender reassignment’ do regret it and return to live in harmony with their bodies. Mental health professionals who previously supported people to ‘transition’ can and do change their minds once they see the damage this has done.

We cannot treat support for transgender ideology as an unforgiveable sin, as there is no Biblical mandate for assuming that it is.

As Christians we must hold out hope for society to move forward to a renewed gratitude for being created male and female.

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