Last week’s King’s Speech neglected to make any reference to the long-awaited ban on the use of conversion practices.
Prior to last week’s King’s Speech, it was reported that the Government would re-confirm its pledge to ban conversion therapy. Sadly, the final speech omitted the ban, confirming the Government’s lack of action on this harmful and shameful issue. ‘Conversion therapy’ is any process used to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity, including physical, religious or counselling practices. These practices are unethical, harmful and widely refuted by evidence. In addition, over 60% of the British public think that conversion therapy should be banned.
There is a surprising proportion of LGBTQ+ people in Britain that have been encouraged to change their sexual orientation or gender identity. A recent study found 18% of LGB people (nearly 1 in 5) and 42% of trans people experienced conversion practices. Even more concerning is that, globally, children and young people are more likely to suffer conversion therapy than adults.
Conversion therapy has startling and disastrous effects on recipients – they are 92% more likely to have suicidal ideation across their lifetime, and experience severe mental health, humanistic and economic consequences.Dr Jason Schaub & Dr Willem J Stander, University of Birmingham
Conversion therapy has startling and disastrous effects on recipients – they are 92% more likely to have suicidal ideation across their lifetime, and experience severe mental health, humanistic and economic consequences.
It is important to note that experiencing, or being offered, 'conversion therapies' are often a result of complex family rejections for LGBTQ+ people. Family rejection has life long and significant mental health impacts. Contrastingly, family acceptance is one of the most important factors in supporting positive self-image for LGBTQ+ people.
The political context of this issue is long and torturous; filled with senior politicians and civil servants calling out the Government for the appalling lack of progress. PM Theresa May first promised to ban conversion therapy in July 2018 – five years ago, but a series of successive governments have not acted on this promise. Instead, they have held two separate consultations (in 2021 and a further in 2022). The continued inaction resulted in Theresa May delivering a warning in June 2022 that the Government needed to avoid backsliding on the issue and stick to its commitment.
One of Boris Johnson’s former LGBT advisors has previously suggested the Government is attempting to use gender identity as a wedge issue and that this is affecting its commitment to the ban. It is wrong to assume that there is less public support for a gender identity-related conversion therapy ban than for sexual orientation conversion therapy. In fact, a 2022 YouGov poll showed similar levels of public support of the two, even amongst Tory voters.
At least four of the government's own LGBT advisors have quit since 2021 over the lack of a conversion therapy ban. Shockingly, the lead LGBT advisor even argued her reason for quitting was because the government’s equalities ministers were creating a 'hostile environment' for LGBTQ+ people.
Britain is increasingly isolated in this position amongst comparable nations, with fervent disapproval from international bodies. Canada, France, New Zealand and at least a dozen other countries have enacted legislation banning these practices. Conversion therapies are widely considered to be a violation of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights outlined that so-called conversion therapies, even for children, are inappropriate, damaging, and should not be allowed.
25 UK healthcare and counselling organisations – including Royal College of General Practitioners, RC Psychiatrists, NHS England, NHS Wales, NHS Scotland, and the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, signed a Memorandum of Understanding condemning the use of conversion therapy in all its forms. In this document, they state that: "Conversion therapy is unethical, harmful and widely refuted by evidence. This lack of evidence of benefit, and given that all psychological therapy professional bodies consider the practice is unethical, makes it impossible for a practitioner to offer and establish informed consent in any way that would be safe or effective."
It is incumbent on the government to act to protect LGBTQ+ people from this abhorrent practice – especially in light of rising hate crimes against LGBTQ+ people and trans people in particular.
Ongoing delays, U-turns and broken promises by the government only add to this burden and show a callous disregard for the safety and protection of LGBTQ+ people, especially those who may be particularly vulnerable to these practices (e.g., those in children’s social care, from religious backgrounds, etc.)
So-called conversion therapies have been shown to be harmful and are not effective in changing sexual orientation or gender identity. They have substantial, life-long negative health impacts, and cause self-esteem and confidence issues for people who experience them. The NHS, the UN, and all major therapeutic professional bodies have condemned them. The lack of action from the Government is not only disappointing but also shameful.