Why are we still waiting for a ban on conversion therapy?

6 Mins read

It’s six years since Theresa May vowed to ban conversion therapy, but the barbaric practice continues. Why is nothing happening?

Conversion therapy, which can be defined as any practice with the intent of changing an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity, is a barbaric practice that has been condemned by politicians across the political spectrum as well as many health organisations.

In 2017, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) – a document produced by a congregation of British medical organisations including the NHS – declared conversion therapy to be unethical, potentially harmful” and “not supported by evidence.”

In 2018, Prime Minister Theresa May promised that the government would be bringing forward legislation to “end the practice of conversion therapy” as a matter of priority.

This pledge came in response to a nationwide, LBGTQ+ survey. It found that 5% of participants reported that they had been offered at least one form of conversion therapy.

Theresa May outside of 10 Downing Street
Theresa May pledged to end conversion therapy when she was Prime Minister [UK Government]

May had expressed solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community: “I was struck by just how many respondents said they cannot be open about their sexual orientation or avoid holding hands with their partner in public for fear of a negative reaction. No-one should ever have to hide who they are or who they love.”

Whilst the Conservative leader had seemed genuinely concerned for LGBTQ+ people, her government’s budget did not go the full mile.

The former Prime Minister’s initiative to tackle the issues raised by the survey received £4.5 million in funding. That figure equated to less than 0.005% of the government’s £979.9 billion in spending that year.

Peter Tatchell of the Green Party, a prevalent LGBTQ+ rights activist, described the investment as  “derisory and insulting.” It seemed as though working to ban conversion therapy was not a government priority after all.

Since 2018, the government have been consistently inconsistent in their approach to the issue.

In 2020, Prime Minister Boris Johnson indirectly postponed the ban. In a clumsy, faux-pas statement, he stated: “On the gay conversion therapy thing, I think that’s absolutely abhorrent, what we are going to do is a study right now on, you know, where is this actually happening, how prevalent is it, and we will then bring forward plans to ban it.”

As Theresa May’s initiative had been motivated by the findings of a study of this exact nature back in 2018, no further study was conducted, on the basis that the statistics were already there.

In April of 2022, government plans for a ban were destined to be scrapped completely.

When government documents stating that “The PM has agreed we should not move forward with legislation to ban LGBT conversion therapy” were leaked by ITV News on April 1, nationwide uproar ensued.

The government was quick to inform major news broadcasters that, contrary to the documents leaked, the ban would still go forward.

The U-turn was announced within hours, however, the press release revealed that any upcoming ban would not cover therapies targeting gender identity.

“It’s not about therapy, it is not even about talking, it is about mistreatment, abuse and in some cases torture.”

Jane Fae, chair of Trans Media Watch

Unsurprisingly, this complete disregard for transgender people was met with widespread criticism.

Jayne Ozanne, survivor of conversion therapy and founder and chair of the Ban Conversion Therapy Coalition, commented that the decision “left the most vulnerable group completely unprotected” and described it as “utterly ludicrous.”

The former director of legislative affairs, Nikki da Costa, defended the exclusion of gender based conversion therapies from the ban.

She claimed that “doctors, therapists and parents would be deterred from exploring with a child any feelings of what else may be going on for fear of being told they’re trying to change a child’s identity,” and that this would have “profound consequences for children struggling with gender dysphoria.”

Jane Fae, the chair of Trans Media Watch, a charity that advocates for positive media coverage of the trans community responded: “It’s not about therapy, it is not even about talking, it is about mistreatment, abuse and in some cases torture.”

However, in January 2023, the government performed yet another U-turn on this issue.

The Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan declared in a written statement that the Bill for the ban would be published shortly, and that it would “protect everyone, including those targeted on the basis of their sexuality, or being transgender.”

On November 20, 2023, the long anticipated Conversion Therapy Prohibition (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity) Bill was presented to the House of Lords for its first reading. The bill was approved for its second reading which will take place on February 9, 2024.

As promised, the Bill proposes to ban all conversion therapies attempting to:
(a) change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, or
(b) suppress a person’s expression of sexual orientation or gender identity.

The bill proposes any breach of this law will incur an unlimited fine.

Although this is a step in the right direction, it is the first of many. It is likely that we will see this Bill contested in further stages of the consideration process.

Whilst the process of passing the Bill continues, conversion therapy continues to destroy LBGTQ+ lives.

In Reddit forums, TikTok pages and X (formerly know as Twitter) threads, victims of the practice continue to share their devastating experiences.

LGBT flag with blood

One Reddit user went to the platform for advice:

“Help my parents are taking me to conversion therapy, they said they’ll kick me out if I don’t cooperate, what do I do now? Conversion therapy is very mentally damaging, so what do I do to avoid the mental damage???”

The post had received many replies from individuals who had previously found themselves in, or were currently experiencing similar, precarious situations. So, how common is this predicament?

We spoke with former crisis-support worker and current well-being worker at LGBTQ+ homelessness charity, AKT, Dulce Fraser, to gauge the scale of the issue.

“I’ve met a lot of young people that have fallen into homelessness because they’ve been kicked out by family members after refusing to co-operate in conversion therapy or they’ve left home in fear of being forced to go to it,” Dulce told Artefact.

It was devastating to hear how common this situation is; for many LGBTQ+ people, they are forced to, either, endure inhumane ‘therapy’ or face losing their home.

We contacted the Ealing Central and Acton MP, Rupa Huq, who’s a member of the Labour Party and an advocate for introducing the ban, to find out her thoughts on the current situation.

In 2021, Huq had called on Liz Truss for there to be “no more dither and delay” and to “ban conversion therapy – now!”

Although a Bill for a ban on conversion therapy has now been produced for parliamentary consideration in its most simplistic form, Rupa Huq said that the Government is now saying there are complexities that still need to be addressed.

“This is despite the fact that Ministers have not been able to present evidence from medical bodies supporting their concerns that a conversion ‘therapy’ ban would have a chilling effect, or that a trans-inclusive ban would “put legitimate talking therapy treatments at risk,” she said.

“LGBT+ people need a Government that will not simply use complexity, which is common to all legislation, as an excuse for inaction.”

Rupa Huq, MP

“The Government should instead ensure that every LGBT+ person can live their lives in dignity and free from abuse, just like everyone else.”

More broadly, Rupa Huq stated, “I am committed to working to end discrimination against trans, non-binary and gender diverse people. As well as a ban on all forms of conversion practices, I want to see every victim of hate crime treated equally, with anti-LGBT+ and disability hate crimes treated as aggravated offence.”

She added that the Government should also aim to “modernise, simplify and reform the gender recognition law to a new process, while continuing to support the implementation of the 2010 Equality Act including its provision for single-sex exemptions.”

In a reform proposition brought forward by the University College and Union, reforms to the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) would include:

  • A more timely route to obtaining legal gender recognition. This acknowledges that for many trans people the decision to live in a gender other than the one that corresponds with the sex assigned at their birth is not sudden.
  • A shorter waiting period (three months, reduced from two years) in the time to change the birth certificate so that it is consistent with other paperwork such as passport, driving licence etc.
  • A removal of medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria, consistent with the Equality Act 2010.
  • A system with reduced bureaucracy in the process of changing legal gender.
  • A removal of a fee for application to change legal gender.

The reform was last considered in Parliament on February 21, 2022. Following a passionate debate on all sides that was attended by a large assembly, over three hours, it was concluded by Elliot Colburn, that: “we have to remember that at the heart of this matter are people who are just trying to live their everyday lives.

“If we can conduct ourselves with the respect and tolerance that we are showing each other in this room today, we can successfully take the heat out of the debate, have those discussions with one another and find those answers, because they are there and they are fixable. I am sure that this will be the first of many conversations.”

Similarly to the ban on conversion therapy, the reform of the GRA is a highly controversial, complex task. Nonetheless, it is vital to the well-being of the LGBTQ+ community that the Government continue to pursue the reform as well as the bill to ban conversion therapy.

Featured image by Jiroe (Matia Rengel) via Unsplash.

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