Conversion therapy will be banned in the UK after public consultation


Sofía Masondo

So-called “conversion therapy”, the practice of attempting to change someone’s sexuality or gender identity often through torture and abusive methods, is set to be banned in England and Wales following a public consultation. The news comes after many years of campaigning from LGBTQ+ rights activists and an email- and letter-writing campaign from Stonewall UK to members of Parliament, with 24,000 people emailing to ban the practice.

Currently only four countries ban the practice; those are Brazil, Germany, Ecuador and Malta, with some having regional preventative laws (the US, Canada, Australia and Spain) and some with indirect bans (Argentina, Uruguay, Samoa, Fiji, and Naura). Conversion therapy is widely discredited and condemned by scientists and according to ILGA World, an international LGBTQ+ organisation, is “destructive on people’s lives from a very early age”. For many LGBTQ+ campaigners, activists and regular people, this news will come as a sigh of relief – it has been three years since the government’s initial promise to ban the practice, and campaigners have worked tirelessly for three years to hold that promise to account. The National LGBT Survey by the UK government in 2018 revealed that 5% of respondents had been offered conversion therapy, and 2% had undergone it. LGBTQ+ people from ethnic minority backgrounds, particularly South Asian and Black people, are more than twice as likely to have been affected.  While 10% of Christians and 20% of Muslims had undergone or been offered conversion therapy. The figure is shockingly high among transgender respondents – almost 1 in 10 trans men have been offered such “therapy” while one in 25 have undergone it. However, some say this move is coming far too late and too slowly. In March, three advisors to the LGBT advisory panel quit in concern that it the process was too slow and that the Conservative party created a “hostile environment” for LGBTQ+ people. James Morton, one of the three advisors, claimed that the lack of engagement on behalf of the Government Equalities Office civil servants with their panel left him with “no confidence that the UK government wishes to protect the existing quality of life and human rights” of LGBTQ+ people. In a statement, Stonewall UK said that “actions speak louder than words” and that the trust and support of the queer communities “cannot be taken for granted”.

There is also worry about the public consultation; the government says that it aims to ensure that the ban does not have “unintended consequences” and allows for conversation about sexuality and gender to continue in medical professions and religious settings. However, there is concern that the consultation, both with the public and with interested parties, will create a policy that is too lenient, particularly with faith-based settings. Stonewall’s chief executive, Nancy Kelley published a statement saying that the news of the consultation is “concerning” and would be “hard for our communities to hear”. She said that queer people do not need a consultation to know that “all practices that seek to convert, suppress, cure or change us are dangerous, abusive and must be banned”. The consultation will include leaders from faith settings, as some religious groups are concerned that the new legislation could affect traditional religious teaching, such as that sex outside a heterosexual marriage is a sin. Peter Lynas, the UK director of the Evangelical Alliance, says that ministry leaders could come under risk of arrest for encouraging traditional Evangelical views and practices, and that it may criminalize prayer on behalf of people who willingly ask for help against same-sex attraction. Conversion therapy has become a contentious issue among religious groups, sparking fierce debate over what is acceptable within a faith setting. The Church of England has previously said that the practice of conversion therapy has “no place in the modern world”, and in December of 2020 more than 370 religious leaders from across the world called for a ban. Jayne Ozanne, another of the former advisors to the LGBT advisory panel, says that it is essential that religious practices be included in the ban – more than half of people who said they had been subjected to conversion therapy said it was conducted by a faith group, taking up a huge proportion of the issue in the UK. Ozanne emphasized the importance of protecting “everyone from this inhumane and degrading abuse”, and that the government had “consulted long enough”.

It is important to remember the human side of conversion therapy and its effects. It is a psychologically torturous and traumatic experience that often does not leave victims for the rest of their lives. As Blair Anderson, from the End Conversion Therapy Campaign, said “no one is born hating themselves. If someone is volunteering [for conversion therapy], it’s often not of their own accord. It’s because they’re surrounded by people …who are pressuring them or manipulating them”. For the thousands of people in the UK who have suffered with this “therapy”, or have loved ones who have been through it, banning the practice to prevent a generation of queer children from suffering through it cannot come soon enough.