MY column today is very personal. I think by now most people know I am a lesbian. I didn’t come into politics with the purpose of defending the rights of lesbians. Indeed, I never really wanted to make an issue of my sexuality but events have meant I have had no choice.

My purpose in entering elected politics was to achieve independence for my country. I honestly thought that would be the fight of my life.

Instead, while that struggle seems somewhat becalmed at present, I find myself in the fight of my life defending the sex-based rights of women and girls and the rights of me and my lesbian sisters to be who we are and to organise around the protected characteristic of our same-sex orientation.

I am 55 years old now. I came out as a lesbian when I was 21. It was 1987, the height of the AIDS crisis, and during the campaign against Section 28 (Clause 2A in Scotland). I marched across the UK in support of my gay brothers’ right to proper healthcare and against the clause. I was gay bashed for walking up the street with someone who was obviously my girlfriend. I lived in fear of my employers finding out my sexuality and sacking me. I struggled with my Catholic upbringing and the antipathy of my church towards who I was. That’s how it was then. Fortunately, things have changed hugely.

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So great has been the success of the struggle for equal rights for LGB people in the UK that the focus of many organisations such as Stonewall is now on trans rights. As I have said before, I support equal rights for trans people. I do not however support self-identification of sex without any gatekeeping. And I do not believe that the nebulous concept of gender identity should trump the observable biological fact of sex. As JK Rowling has said, without sex there can be no same-sex attraction. That rather matters to people like me.

The controversy in which I have become mired this week stems from proposals of the UK Government to ban conversion therapy. Last weekend on Twitter I made it clear that while I oppose conversion therapy as conventionally understood, I share the concerns of many that the inclusion of the concept of “gender identity” in the UK Government bill risks threatening professionals working with children and vulnerable people who are having issues with their gender, if they seek to explore the reasons for their distress.

Over the past few years, there has been a very worrying rise in the number of children, particularly girls, becoming convinced they were “born in the wrong body” and seeking to take puberty-blocking drugs and cross-sex hormones. This is a controversial, experimental medical treatment for a complex problem. We have also seen an increase in the number of young people who have later regretted the irreversible changes made to their bodies and who have sought to “detransition”.

I am concerned that young women, particularly those who may be lesbians, should be offered alternatives to such drastic medical pathways, and that their teachers, parents and therapists should not be threatened with prison and fines for discussing these options with them.

In the years leading up to puberty I wanted to be a boy. This happens to a lot of young girls. Some, like me, grow up to be lesbians or bisexual. Some are just tomboys and grow up to date men and some are trans and choose to live as the opposite sex. I want these girls to be able to discuss, with professional support if necessary, what it is that is making them wish they had been born a boy and to decide whether they might be gay, straight or trans before they embark on life-changing treatment with puberty blockers which may leave them permanently infertile and undergoing surgery to remove their breasts.

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THE UK Government’s proposed bill will create a new criminal offence of “talking conversion therapy”, covering any therapy undertaken with the intention of changing a person’s sexual orientation or changing them from being transgender or to being transgender, if they are under 18 or have been coerced or lack the capacity to consent.

Childhood transition is a controversial medical issue.

Dr Hilary Cass is currently leading a Review on Gender Identity Services for Children and Young People commissioned by the UK Department of Health and I do not believe that legislation concerning the treatment of children presenting with gender dysphoria should be presented to Parliament until her review has reported. Many therapists advocate a process of “watchful waiting” for children with gender dysphoria. However, the proposed safeguards protecting legitimate therapists are not strong enough as they rely on the child or other patient declaring that they are “questioning” rather than “trans”.

This means that if a child or vulnerable person declares they are transgender, then any professional seeking to explore the reasons for this feeling, or alternative pathways other than transition, would be at risk of investigation and prosecution for engaging in “conversion therapy”.

That in a nutshell is the problem I have with the current proposals.

For trying to articulate this legitimate concern on social media and for the “crime” of attending debates about similar concerns with my sisters in the LGB Alliance I have been subjected to a torrent of abuse.

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What I have said has been grossly misrepresented including by a leading charity funded by the Scottish Government. And, in flagrant breach of the party’s code of conduct, SNP members including parliamentarians and councillors have taken to social media calling for me to have the whip withdrawn and even for me to be expelled from the party.

Their actions disgrace the SNP and they put me in danger of further abuse and worse. We need a better politics than this and we need to be able to discuss difficult issues without McCarthyite witch-hunts. These matters are controversial – there is no question about that. Pretending otherwise or chanting the mantra “no debate” does a disservice to our party and our country.

To end on a positive note. I have got through this week not just because of the love of my family and friends but also because of an outpouring of support from ordinary members of the SNP, my constituents and the wider public. People are noticing the hounding of women like me, Professor Kathleen Stock and JK Rowling and they don’t like it one little bit. The bullies should take heed.