Wales’ LGBTQ+ Action Plan takes no account of autism

The Welsh Government’s (WG) LGBTQ+ Action Plan seeks to replace the biological reality of sex, with the nebulous term ‘gender’. You can find out more about this here, but in this article I explore the implications of the Action Plan for autistic people.

We’re still learning about autism but there is scientific consensus that it is a genetic-based neurological variant.

The most common traits shared by people on the autistic spectrum are:

  • Sensory issues (hyper- or hypo-sensitive) and sensory overload/burnout
  • A need for predictability
  • Difficulties in understanding social interactions/literal-mindedness
  • Difficulties in managing social demands, for example: being expected to make eye contact
  • Daily struggles when navigating a world which is designed for ‘neurotypical’ people

Not every autistic person is disabled by his/her autism but autism is an intrinsic part of who they are and there is no ‘cure’.

The Action Plan is steeped in ‘gender identity’ ideology (specifically, Queer Theory); however, the concept of ‘gender identity’ is antithetical to sexuality.

Like autism, sexual orientation cannot be changed – at least not without causing lasting trauma, such as that caused by gay conversion therapy. For autistic people, the equivalent is Applied Behavioural Analysis (a ‘therapy’ which seeks to stop autistic patterns of behaviour which are seen as ‘wrong’).

‘Gender identity’ involves reinforcement of social norms/stereotypes. Gender is culturally specific and fluctuates over time, unlike sex, which is decided at the moment of conception.

Replacing ‘sex’ with ‘gender’ results in a de facto conversion of people who would otherwise have understood their gender non-conformity as an indicator of same-sex attraction. Interestingly, there is a higher prevalence of gender non-conforming behaviour and, lesbian, gay and bisexual sexual orientations amongst autistic people, believed to be in the region of 15 – 35%.

Autism is characterised by sensory difficulties – and ‘gender’ is a very sensory affair. Pink for girls, swooshy dresses, long hair, make-up; blue for boys, utilitarian fabric, dark colours, short hair.

What about autistic girls who hate the feel of hair clips? Or autistic boys who love sequins and vivid colours? There is a likelihood that before there is a diagnosis of autism, a child’s discomfort with gendered expectations is misdiagnosed as gender dysphoria. The Tavistock gender clinic in London has given hormone treatments to children as young as ten. Its own records show that 1 in 2 children referred to its service have either a diagnosis of autism or mild-to-moderate autistic traits.

The Tavistock also recorded that nearly all patients given puberty ‘blockers’ went on to take cross-sex hormones and therefore risked sterility (among other serious side-effects) as adults.

The recent High Court judgement in the ‘Bell vs. Tavistock’ case ruled that children are unlikely to be able to make informed decisions about accessing treatments such as puberty blockers. The Action Plan dismisses the judgement, stating, “recent studies identify a positive relationship between access to puberty-suppressing treatments and improved mental health for trans young people”.

In fact, the Action Plan makes the ‘affirmative approach’ one of its recommendations and positively asserts its commitment to enabling GPs to initiate hormone therapy. What then of autistic children?

Given all the well-documented connections between autism and gender dysphoria – particularly in the Tavistock ruling, which is mentioned within the Action Plan – why is it the Action Plan does not mention autism even once?

This is not a minor issue. Young people who use cross-sex hormones can become sterile. Women in their early 20s are having hysterectomies as testosterone causes their reproductive organs to atrophy and they lose sexual function and the ability to orgasm. All before their brains have fully matured.

The writers of the Action Plan appear to know this, but have simply decided to disregard it as it does not fit their narrative. All to the detriment of Welsh autistic people.
Merched Cymru and LGB Alliance Cymru are working together to respond to Welsh Government’s LGBT+ Action Plan. See our page here.