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Who are the people trying to stop Relationships and Sex Education in our schools?

Dr. Kate Godfrey-Faussett, a psychologist who is a leading figure in the Stop RSE campaign, is presently under investigation by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) for comments she made during a speech on the proposed introduction of Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) in UK schools.

In a speech at the Islamic Unity Conference in 2018 which was uploaded to YouTube and has been viewed over 40,000 times, Dr. Godfrey-Faussett described the change to the RSE curriculum as “a war on morality and on our spirituality…The core of it is an assault on families. Everything Islam holds dear, whether it’s a marriage between a man and a woman, chastity, self-restraint and traditional marriage is under attack,” she declared.

The comment about ‘traditional marriage’ ‘between a man and a woman’ was a pointed reference to the requirement that schools include lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) content in both primary and secondary teaching. Dr. Godfrey-Faussett insisted the government’s move was part of a “totalitarian endeavour to indoctrinate our children in secular ideologies” and criticised “the promotion of the homosexual agenda”. She went on to denounce the normalisation of same-sex relationships in RSE, claiming that “they do it in a very clever insidious way to brainwash our children. And it is brainwashing: I’m a psychologist so I’m not speaking out of turn.”

Having made her views on same-sex relationships very clear, Dr. Godfrey-Faussett turned her attention to transgender people. She described the transgender rights movement as a “mass delusion” and a “highly dangerous ideology”.

She warned the audience that “we have to stop this RSE and this kind of LGBT ideologies from coming in because they are taking our children away from us”. This action is urgently needed, explained Dr. Godfrey-Faussett, as “sadly there are many of the Muslim youth already turning into same-sex relationships because they haven’t had the guidance and various other reasons”. She went on to lament the “queering” of the “Muslim community” and said Muslims should “work psychologically or in a mental health capacity” with Muslims experiencing same-sex attraction.

Shortly after this speech, Dr. Godfrey-Faussett launched a petition to give parents the right to opt their child out of RSE classes. The petition says:

“We have grave concerns about the physical, psychological and spiritual implications of teaching children about certain sexual and relational concepts proposed in RSE and believe that they have no place within a mandatory school curriculum.”

The petition received over 118,000 signatures and was debated in the Westminster parliament. In response, the government promised that the draft guidance would allow parents to request that their child be withdrawn from sex education as part of RSE. The government’s response provided no such opt-out clause for the ‘relational concepts’ of RSE, which Dr. Godfrey-Faussett’s petition had also demanded.

I first learned about Dr. Godfrey-Faussett in a blog by the National Secular Society (NSS), which had investigated her speech and the Stop RSE campaign. Like Dr. Godfrey-Faussett, I am a registered psychologist with the HCPC and a Chartered Psychologist with the British Psychological Society (BPS). I was appalled by her comments and felt compelled to act.

My motivation was both professional and personal. Professionally, I was concerned that Dr. Godfrey-Faussett claimed to be working therapeutically with young people in schools while unapologetically espousing bigoted views on gender, sexuality and relationship diversity. As registered psychologists, our standards of conduct, performance and ethics state clearly that “you must not discriminate against service users, carers or colleagues by allowing your personal views to affect your professional relationships or the care, treatment or other services that you provide”. If your child was uncertain about their gender or sexuality, is this a psychologist you would entrust with their care?

Given the relative popularity of her speech, I was also concerned that her homophobic and transphobic views might undermine the public’s trust and confidence in our profession. Once again, our regulatory code is clear: “You must make sure that your conduct justifies the public’s trust and confidence in you and your profession”. More broadly, I was concerned that Dr. Godfrey-Faussett’s status, title and comments could be used to justify prejudice and discrimination against LGBT+ people, especially those in the Muslim community.

As a member of the LGBT community, I have experienced the harm that attitudes like hers can cause. I was born in Northern Ireland at a time when homosexuality was still illegal and prejudice towards LGBT people was widespread. I grew up in a society which, like Dr. Godfrey-Faussett, regarded my sexuality as an aberration. I heard fundamentalist Christians utter the same bigotry as her, and I vividly remember the self-loathing it caused me for years.

Being openly LGBT – even amongst friends – was simply not possible. ‘Coming out’ in a family or community meant running the high risk of being ostracised. I didn’t need “guidance” or someone to “work psychologically or in a mental health capacity” with me, as Dr. Godfrey-Faussett suggests. All I needed was the bigots around me to let me live according to my values and beliefs, not theirs. Like so many LGBT people from Northern Ireland, I only achieved this freedom by leaving the country.

So for these professional and personal reasons, I decided to act. As she is a Chartered Psychologist I felt that Dr. Godfrey-Faussett’s comments were in clear breach of the BPS code of ethics and conduct to which all members subscribe. The NSS contacted the BPS immediately on 1 April 2019 and the BPS issued a public statement the following day, stating that “respect, equality, tolerance and a non-judgemental approach are the bedrock of good psychological practice and are the values that we know the vast majority of psychologists embrace day in, day out”. They noted that they had referred Dr Godfrey-Faussett to her regulator, the HCPC, as they felt her comments had the potential to undermine the public’s confidence in the psychology profession, as well as conducting their own investigation.

Shortly afterwards, the BPS suspended her membership for 18 months. This was later reduced to a reprimand following an appeal. Since then, however, Dr. Godfrey-Faussett has disappeared from the BPS list of Chartered Psychologists. I emailed the BPS who confirmed that Dr. Godfrey-Faussett is no longer a member.

The more significant action is by the HCPC. As the regulator for psychology, they have the power to sanction or even ‘strike off’ Dr. Godfrey-Faussett. This would mean she is no longer able to describe herself or practise as a ‘registered psychologist’, ‘practitioner psychologist’, or ‘counselling psychologist’ – all of which are protected titles.

The HCPC acknowledged the complaints against Dr. Godfrey-Faussett with a neutral and noncommittal statement. Behind the scenes, they sought to impose an interim order preventing Dr. Godfrey-Faussett from practising as a psychologist. This was ruled unnecessary and Dr. Godfrey-Faussett was allowed to continue to practice

No further details about the HCPC’s investigation are in the public domain. There is no disciplinary hearing scheduled in Dr. Godfrey-Faussett’s name and when I emailed the HCPC to request an update, they simply stated that it would “not be appropriate for them to comment further.”

Following the NSS complaint, Dr. Godfrey-Faussett was suspended without pay from her job. A crowdfunding page to help with legal costs has received over £23,000 of donations.

Dr. Godfrey-Faussett maintains she is the “victim of a witch hunt” and claims rather astonishingly that “I have never said anything discriminatory”.

Of course, Dr. Godfrey-Faussett is entitled to hold her bigoted views about gender and sexuality, but what the HCPC must decide is whether she is entitled to broadcast or impose those views in her professional practice. Dr. Godfrey-Faussett draws on her professional expertise when describing RSE as ‘brainwashing’, then stating “I’m a psychologist so I’m not speaking out of turn”. Later on, she asks the audience to “work psychologically or in a mental health capacity” with Muslims experiencing same-sex attraction, which clearly  characterises same-sex attraction as a psychological  ‘failing’. It is only right and proper that she be held professionally accountable for her comments.

Personally and professionally, the case has left me with a sense of unease. The BPS were quick to issue an initial statement but have been conspicuously quiet ever since. Their failure to publish the findings of their investigation is a missed opportunity to send a clear signal to both the public and other psychologists. Why has the BPS allowed its members – my colleagues – to make such blatantly homophobic and transphobic comments?

Meanwhile, the HCPC investigation is proceeding at a glacial rate. After 18 months there is still no resolution. If the HCPC subsequently finds that Dr. Godfrey-Faussett poses a “serious risk to the public and profession”, there are real grounds for concern in why they are taking so long to act on a case where professional standards have so clearly been breached.

These are concerns that affect us all, whether we’re a psychologist, a recipient of psychology services, or a member of the public. We deserve answers and reassurance and I will continue to search for both. For now, however, the wait continues.

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Tags: , , , Last modified: January 16, 2021