UKCP recognises student’s right to express gender critical views

A student who was expelled from a university master’s course in psychotherapy because of his gender critical beliefs has won an important legal victory against the UK Counsel for Psychotherapy (UKCP). 

James Esses is a former barrister training to become a psychotherapist. Prior to his expulsion, Esses was in his third year of a five year MSc provided by the Metanoia Institute and accredited by Middlesex University. The Metanoia Institute is one of the major organisations providing psychotherapy training in the UK. 

Esses holds gender critical views. Specifically, he believes that sex is binary and immutable. Recently, he has launched the Declaration for Biological Reality. In May 2021, Esses became alarmed that the UK government’s bill to ban conversion therapy might – in addition to banning conversion therapy – make anything less than total affirmation of a client’s wish to transition genders illegal. This would criminalise exploratory therapy, a kind of therapy which aims to help a client explore their feelings in a way that is “open, curious, and non-directive“. Esses started a petition for the government not to criminalise exploratory therapy. The petition received a response from the government and provoked a fierce backlash on social media. 

Following the petition and the social media backlash, Metanoia expelled Esses with a single email. He was given no opportunity to appeal or to justify his actions. Esses notes that this course of action is usually taken only against those who have committed a physical or sexual assault on campus, and believes that he was expelled for the publicity he gave to his gender critical views. Metanoia publicised his expulsion with a tweet.  

In response Esses launched an employment tribunal case against Metanoia. The case was extended to include UKCP as a respondent as well, after it was alleged that UKCP had pressured Metanoia in their treatment of Esses. Esses has now won a substantial victory against UKCP. He has agreed a settlement, and UKCP has published a statement acknowledging that discrimination against therapists because of their gender critical beliefs on UK training courses is illegal. Esses’ case against Metanoia continues. 

To the knowledge of CAF, James Esses is the first student to be expelled from a university course for holding gender critical beliefs. A number of academics have also been fired for their gender critical views: see the cases of Jo Phoenix and Almut Gadow. The expulsion of Esses for his beliefs is a direct violation of his academic freedom, and a powerful deterrent on other students. One donor to Esses’ crowdfunder stated that they were a student at Metanoia, but would not publicly put their name on the crowdfunder for fear of suffering similar reprisals. UKCP’s recognition that training courses must not discriminate against individuals with gender critical beliefs is a victory for academic freedom within academic psychiatry. It is to be hoped that Esses will also be successful in forcing Metanoia to recognise that it must not discriminate against gender critical students.