Lived experience and a lopsided law

8, June 2023

by James Kennedy

James works in public affairs for The Christian Institute and is part of the Let Us Pray campaign.

Scotland’s new Equalities Minister, Emma Roddick, has claimed that her “lived experience” as part of the LGBT community will be a boost in her role.

Speaking to The National, the minister now responsible for conversion therapy legislation said:

“I think people devalue lived experience but I’ve been really happy to see the Scottish Government in recent years saying we cannot proceed without it.

“It was nice I got some emails from stakeholders in the portfolio saying they were excited to have somebody from the community in the role, because that’s not happened before. It was the same with disabled organisations, they were saying to me ‘you know how important it is’.”

At just 25 – the youngest member of Humza Yousef’s new cabinet – Roddick will no doubt want to assuage fears that she hasn’t got the necessary workplace experience to manage such a controversial role.

According to Roddick, who says she’s bisexual (attracted to both men and women), her lived experience as part of the LGBT community is beneficial to her Equalities brief. She will be better able to empathise and understand those who are treated in a partial way.

‘Lived experience’ is originally a scientific term, referring to a person’s ability to provide evidence on the basis of having experienced a situation for themselves. For example, a doctor may be able to explain a medical condition in better technical detail than their patient, but the patient can describe what life looks like with the condition.

But lived experience has its pitfalls too. As it’s largely subjective, many accounts are required to build up a full picture. And like with the doctor and the patient, each side of the coin – technical detail and lived experience – offer only part of the story. Both will be required for holistic treatment.

Returning to ‘Equalities’, it should be clear how crucial both sides of the coin are.

The National writes: “Roddick wants to ensure the Scottish Government moves forward with its pledge to ban conversion therapy”. Underlying this brief comment are the manifest problems with a one-sided approach to lived experience.

‘Conversion therapy’ is a blanket term used by LGBT activists to describe activities they claim seek to change a person’s ‘sexual orientation’ or ‘gender identity’. It is far too broad. It covers everything from horrific electroshock experiments conducted last century, to people innocently praying for themselves today. Within the LGBT community, it is increasingly used as a description for any attitude which disagrees with its underlying ideology.

So parents encouraging their child to feel comfortable in their own body rather than pursue gender transition is considered by some to be ‘conversion therapy’, as is a church encouraging its members to remain celibate outside man-woman marriage. The UK’s leading campaign group has demanded that new legislation banning ‘conversion therapy’ covers “casual conversations” and “private prayer”.

Those who are immersed in the LGBT community – who share that ‘lived experience’ – feel that ordinary religious believers seek to marginalise them. They feel that the feminist groups and loving parents who speak of protecting women’s spaces and appropriately caring for children, are actively maligning transgender people.

But those who know the Bible and want to follow its teaching also feel marginalised by LGBT campaigners. It is impossible not to think of Kate Forbes’ ‘lived experience’ as a Christian, when she was attacked by many for holding her beliefs.

Or we might ask JK Rowling or Maya Forstater whether they have been marginalised by the same campaigners. Their ‘lived experience’ of cancellation and online abuse for disputing trans ideology is surely valid too?

Clearly in this contested arena, lived experience alone cannot provide the solution. So what about the technical side of the ‘Equalities’ brief?

The underlying philosophy is that everyone deserves protection from abuse or harmful treatment no matter who they are. This approach is derived from Christian thinking: we are all made in the image of God and therefore have inherent dignity. That means those who hold to radical LGBT ideology do deserve protection, but so do Christians, feminists and everyone else.

It is painful for Christians to find themselves working against those who claim they want to outlaw abuse. But we know such abuse is already illegal. And we must contend for a society which respects and values Christian thinking too and doesn’t seek to outlaw it.

In effect, ‘conversion therapy’ is already illegal when we’re talking about truly harmful or coercive practices (a point confirmed in a legal opinion by top human rights lawyer Aidan O’Neill KC). No matter who you are, if you suffer abuse today you can and should seek protection and justice. A new criminal law in this area is not needed.

Instead, a new law is likely to criminalise ordinary people doing innocent things. It elevates the viewpoints and ideology of one group, and silences those of the other. It says one person’s ‘lived experience’ has more value than another. That is the opposite of equality.

Had Kate Forbes become Scotland’s new First Minister, no doubt Emma Roddick would have been keen to ensure Forbes’ lived experience as a Christian wasn’t causing her to overlook either the technical detail, or the views and experiences of others.

We must hope the same for Emma Roddick’s time as Equalities Minister. Proposals on conversion therapy and gender identity cannot merely brush aside the views of others. 

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