02.07.24 Trans+ Voices

‘One day they may thank us for that “abuse”’: Inside the Bayswater Support Group

On a private Discord, parents discussed destroying their trans children's belongings and blocking access to Childline

“Our kid has gone from a ‘them’ to a ‘him’ and back to a ‘them’,” lamented a parent on Bayswater Support Group’s internet forum.

“I did some research and became gender critical in my outlook maybe three years ago. My wife resisted but has recently peaked and joined ‘the resistance’! – Can anyone recommend a therapist who doesn’t just affirm gender identity?”

Such introductions are typical of new arrivals to Bayswater’s Discord server, an online space for parents of trans and nonbinary children and young adults. Through its connections with Conservative politicians, including Miriam Cates, the group has influenced policies that have rolled back trans rights in the UK, as revealed by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ).

Posts on the forum over the course of a year to April 2023, seen by TBIJ, demonstrate why that is so concerning.

Parents discuss attempts to ‘stop’ their children from being trans, from isolating them from support and restricting their internet access to sending them to conversion therapists and destroying their possessions. Bayswater even promotes a book called Desist, Detrans & Detox – Getting Your Child Out of the Gender Cult.

Trans Safety Network, which records attempts at institutional and organised harm against trans people in the UK, said: “While Bayswater present themselves as a support group for parents, TBIJ’s findings show they operate as a conversion therapy activist organisation with direct links to political campaigning against the rights of trans children and young people.”

Most Bayswater members misgender their children in their posts, so quotes throughout this article have substituted gender-neutral terms.

Behind closed doors

The posts seen by TBIJ show Bayswater parents discussing how their treatment of their trans children has led to them being reported to social services.

One posted that a school counsellor made a referral because “my [child] is fearful living in our home, we have refused to buy [them] certain (boys) clothes and we restrained [them]”. A subsequent post noted the child was “not concerned that Mum and Dad have been referred to social services”.

Members are aware that some of their behaviour is considered abuse. One user posted a link to an article about anti-LGBTQ+ domestic abuse, with the caption: “Examples include monitoring interaction with friends. Imagine it also includes refusal to affirm.”

Another parent sarcastically responded “Yes, we are abusive!”, with the original commenter retorting: “One day, they may thank us for that ‘abuse’”.

A Bayswater committee member admitted on the forum that her trans child, a young adult, was living in accommodation for LGBTQ+ abuse survivors, which she called “a church for the gender faithful”. Other posts reveal she prevented them from taking hormones at home, and took steps to ensure any money they inherited could not be used for transition care.

Some of the behaviours described on Bayswater’s Discord server “could be considered abusive, depending on the context,” said Dr Adam Jowett, the lead author of a government-commissioned report on conversion practices.

Several Bayswater members describe behaviour that under Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) guidelines could be classed as domestic abuse, like destroying or removing their children’s pride flags, LGBTQ+ badges, bras and binders (clothing used to create the appearance of a flat chest).

One parent, who had already destroyed several binders, described how they had issued an ultimatum when their child bought another. “I told [them] to go and get [their] phone, laptop and tablet, and that [they weren’t] getting them back until [they] would give up [their] binder,” the post read.

However, Bayswater appears to have successfully lobbied to water down prosecution guidelines for anti-trans domestic abuse.

In May, the CPS updated its domestic abuse guidance to remove withholding money for gender-affirming treatment as an example, and narrow the definitions of other forms of transphobic abuse.

“Destroying medication” became “destroying UK regulated medication that has been prescribed to the victim”, effectively failing to protect the significant proportion of trans people who self-medicate because trans healthcare in the UK is inaccessible. While NHS trans healthcare requires years-long waiting lists and invasive assessments, in areas of Spain young people over 16 can be referred by a GP to access hormone therapy without a psychiatric assessment, waiting less than six months.

Bayswater publicly thanked the CPS for engaging in a “constructive dialogue” with the group, posting on X that it was “pleased to see this reflected” in the guidance.

A CPS spokesperson confirmed that the CPS had met with Bayswater, and admitted that the group had been allowed to influence the guidance about destroying medication. Bayswater’s arguments concerned unregulated medication for trans people that the group said could be dangerous, and the CPS altered its guidelines accordingly.

The CPS told TBIJ: “We amended our domestic abuse guidance so that it presented the law correctly and removed sections which suggested the law could do what it cannot.”

‘I hid my clothes from my parents’

The nature of Bayswater’s private Discord makes it difficult to find young people directly affected by members of the group, as most are unlikely to know their parents are involved.

Rebecca*, 22, does not know if her mother or stepfather have ever been Bayswater members. However, her experiences demonstrate the harmful impact of living with transphobic parents.

Rebecca says her stepfather threatened to hit her after learning she was trans. “It made me scared to even walk around the house,” she recalled. “I had to keep my clothes hidden from [my parents] or they’d get rid of them.” Her mother also spied on her bank statements and search history, which made Rebecca fearful of taking cross-sex hormones under her parents’ roof.

Many Bayswater parents restrict their children’s internet access. “I knew the Internet was a major factor [in my child’s gender identity] so I (famously) drowned [their] iPhone in a jug of salty sugar water whilst [they were] in the shower one day,” posted one parent.

A suggested website blocklist on the forum includes LGBTQ+ charities like Mermaids and Stonewall, websites that sell binders, and even Childline, the NSPCC’s counselling service.

“There’s nothing inherently abusive about a parent restricting their child’s access to the internet,” Jowett told TBIJ, but “where there is a clear attempt to coerce the child and isolate them, those behaviours could be considered abusive, or at least raise red flags for abuse.”

Non-affirming healthcare

Conversion practices – attempts to suppress someone’s sexuality or gender identity – remain legal in the UK, so parents are able to send children for anti-trans therapy. Because therapists rarely advertise such services openly, parents share tips in groups like Bayswater.

“My mum has a few times tried to convince me to see someone so I don’t have to transition,” Rebecca said. She always refused, but suffered “DIY conversion therapy” at home instead.

Any authority figure can engage in conversion practices, but research from the LGBTQ+ charity Galop suggests family members are the most common perpetrators.

The NHS and many therapeutic associations forbid conversion practices, but have not acted to stamp them out. TBIJ found therapists recommended by Bayswater parents as “non-affirming” were still accredited by some of these associations.

Some Bayswater parents believe their children’s gender identities are a response to eating disorders, neurodivergence, bullying, or sexual trauma, and oppose any therapy for these issues that accepts the child’s gender identity.

“I can’t get [my child] much support for [their] sexual assault because, would you believe it, our local rape crisis offers the affirmation model,” one mother posted on Discord. “I don’t know where else to turn.”

Some users reject all mental healthcare for their trans children. “When [they] fully identify as a woman then we can look at autism and ADHD,” one parent posted. “Until then I am steering clear of therapists and I am one.”

“Preventing young people who are struggling from accessing mental health services is likely to make their problems a lot worse,” Jowett said. “It's concerning to see parents saying that they're avoiding seeking therapy for fear that the therapist might have an agenda.”

Bayswater parents particularly feared their children being seen by the Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS), the only NHS service for trans children in England and Wales until it closed this year. In 2022, one Bayswater parent celebrated the “good news” that the waiting time from a referral to the first appointment at GIDS had grown to more than seven years.

In reality, most patients seen by GIDS received no treatment before moving onto adult services. Emily, a trans woman who was prescribed puberty blockers at 17 after more than a year of “humiliating” assessment at GIDS, likened the experience to conversion therapy. “Every interaction I've had ever had with trans healthcare has been violent in a structural sense,” she said.

In 2020, NHS England commissioned a review of GIDS. Dr Hilary Cass, a paediatrician who chaired the review, released her final report in April, which proposed a more localised service that might lessen waiting times, but would also impose even greater restrictions on gender-affirming medication.

NHS England welcomed the recommendations, and both Labour and the Conservatives have promised to implement the Cass Review in their 2024 manifestos.

However, the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH), a global network of trans healthcare professionals, criticised NHS England for appointing Cass, who has no experience delivering trans healthcare, and criticised the report for “ignoring more than three decades of clinical experience in this area”.

Leaving home

Many Bayswater members’ children resent their parents, even without knowing the extent of their lobbying. Several posts discuss broken relationships with adult children, and a few parents admit to taking bold steps to check up on them, including asking universities to break data protection laws in an attempt to locate their estranged children.

“If you’re in a group where you’re surrounded by parents who don’t have a positive relationship with their child, then you should be asking questions,” said Jowett.

Rebecca left home at the first opportunity and does not speak to her stepfather. Living with him made her so fearful she would tremble in her sleep. “I don’t really twitch or shake anymore,” she told TBIJ.

Her anxiety about going out in women’s clothes has lingered, but living alone has enabled Rebecca to start taking oestrogen, and she has begun to rebuild her relationship with her mother, who she says is “very slowly getting better” at accepting her identity.

Jowett suggests parents struggling to accept trans children contact FFLAG, a charity to help families accept and support their LGBTQ+ members.

Sarah Furley, the chair of trustees for FFLAG, said: “When your child comes out as trans, that’s scary and uncomfortable. You can feel shock, grief and often fear for your child’s future.

“With support and information, fears can be addressed and replaced with a closer relationship with your child. In the end it comes down to love.”

A climate of hate

As more Bayswater-supported policies are adopted throughout British institutions, trans youth and the parents who support them face growing challenges. The group’s relationship with Cates and influence over the NHS and CPS has facilitated a rollback of trans rights throughout British public life.

“If you speak to trans children and [supportive] families of trans children, the harms at the moment are very severe and very acute, and I’m really worried that people are looking the other way,” said Dr Cal Horton, a research fellow in applied trans studies at Oxford Brookes University.

Trans children have started taking matters into their own hands. This weekend, young activists from the group Trans Kids Deserve Better occupied NHS England’s London headquarters to protest their lack of access to healthcare and being used as “political pawns”.

“Politicians should be listening first and foremost to trans young people about the policies that affect our lives,” a spokesperson for the group told TBIJ. “Decisions are being taken that affect our lives without any trans people in the room, let alone trans young people. We want the next government to give us a voice and a seat at the table too.”

Have you been affected by the issues raised in this article? Contact [email protected]

Need support?

You can get in touch with:

Galop – 0800 999 5428

Gendered Intellligence

Switchboard – 0800 0119 100 [email protected]

Reporters: Sasha Baker and Valeria Rocca
Additional reporting: Vic Parsons
Illustration: Hayley Wall
Bureau Local editor: Gareth Davies
Deputy editors: Katie Mark and Chrissie Giles
Editor: Franz Wild
Production editor: Frankie Goodway
Fact checker: Somesh Jha