What is conversion therapy and what has been the government’s position on banning it?

Friday 1 April 2022 15:30 BST

The government backtracked just hours after backtracking on plans to introduce a new law banning conversion therapy.

Just hours earlier, a government spokesperson told Sky News that ministers would not ban the practice, but rather consider how existing law can be used more effectively to prevent it.

However, about three and a half hours later, a Downing Street spokesman told Sky News the government would actually ban conversion therapy.

But what is conversion therapy, why do people want to ban it, and what are politicians’ positions on it?

What is conversion therapy?

Also called healing therapy or restorative therapy, conversion therapy refers to any form of treatment or psychotherapy aimed at changing a person’s sexual orientation or removing their gender identity.

Therapy and prayer can be used, while more extreme forms can include “exorcisms, physical abuse and starvation”, said Jayne Ozanne, a former government equality adviser.

LGBT charity Stonewall says conversion therapy is based on the assumption that being lesbian, gay, bi or trans is a mental illness that can be ‘cured’.

The NHS and other professional bodies have warned that all forms of conversion therapy are “unethical and potentially dangerous”.

The practice is banned in several other countries, with Canada, Germany, Mexico and Malta all having introduced a full or partial ban.

Several US states have also introduced a ban on conversion therapy, although in many cases this does not include religious organizations or counselors.

What was the position of the British government?

In 2017, the government launched a national LGBT survey, which found that transgender people were twice as likely to be offered conversion therapy as gay and bisexual people.

The survey received more than 100,000 responses and led to then Prime Minister Theresa May announcing her intention to ban the practice the following year as part of her government’s LGBT equality plan.

Following the success of his Conservative Party leadership campaign, Boris Johnson said in the summer of 2020 that he would put forward the proposal to drop conversion therapy.

But in March 2021, three government advisers – including Ms Ozanne – quit the government’s advisory committee, fearing progress was not fast enough on the issue.

In response, during the final Queen’s Speech in May 2021, the government announced that talk therapy would be banned after public consultation.

Mr Johnson said these ‘heinous practices’ can cause mental and physical harm.

What did the ministers say?

Following the Queen’s Speech last May, Minister for Women and Equality Liz Truss said: “As a global leader in LGBT rights, this government has always been committed to eradicating the practice conversion therapy.

She also reiterated that no action would be taken until the consultation was completed.

On Wednesday, the day before the Downing Street U-turn, Equalities Minister Mike Freer assured MPs the government was “fully committed” to legislation banning the practice.

Reports overnight suggest neither Mr Freer nor Ms Truss were told of the decision not to go ahead with the ban before it was announced and then reversed on Thursday evening.

What did the deputies say?

Conservative chairwoman of the Women’s and Equalities Select Committee, Caroline Nokes, told Sky News “it’s hugely important” the government sticks to commitments to ban conversion therapy.

Conservative MP Alicia Kearns said not banning the practice would be “inconsistent” with her party’s defense of “individual liberties”.

On Friday, Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer told broadcasters: ‘Any conversion therapy in any form is bad. The government should just keep its promises on this.

He also suggested that the double U-turn was a dead-cat strategy to try to distract from increases in the cost of living.

Anneliese Dodds, Ghost Women and Equality Secretary, said: ‘A government that believes conversion therapy is acceptable in 21st century Britain is no friend to the LGBT+ community.

Fellow Labor MP Chris Bryant, who is gay, added: “Everyone is entitled to a life lived to its fullest potential. As long as conversion therapy continues, many will only experience heartbreak.”

calls for transgender people to be included in the ban

Labor MP Nadia Whittome said the ban is “still not good enough” if it doesn’t include transgender people, adding: “LGB comes with the T, and the Conservatives are not on our side.”

Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting posted on social media: “There is no conversion ‘therapy’.

“If it’s abusive and harmful to lesbians, gays and bisexuals, it’s also harmful to trans people. It should be completely banned.”

Human rights charity, the Peter Tatchell Foundation, said that “a ban on conversion therapy that does not include trans people is not a real ban at all”.

That sentiment was echoed by The Rainbow Project, which said any ban that didn’t include transgender people was “not a real ban”.

Who has worries?

Keira Bell started taking puberty blockers aged 16 after being referred to the Tavistock and Portman Trust, but regrets switching to male and has complained to the Trust, alleging they should have challenge her more.

Her lawyer, Paul Conrathe, told Sky News that conversion therapy “protects children from controversial and contested claims of gender ideology”.

He said: “The government’s decision is welcome as it protects children from controversial and contested claims of gender ideology.

“By prioritizing the well-being of children, it allows parents and clinicians to work with children at risk of gender dysphoria without fear of falling under the criminal law.”

But the Christian Institute said early reports that the government should drop the proposed ban on conversion therapy were “good news”.

They said the ban could breach the European Convention on Human Rights.

Earlier this year, the UK’s biggest evangelical body warned that a blanket ban on conversion therapy could end up criminalizing church leaders.

The Evangelical Alliance, which says it represents 3,500 churches, said the ban could restrict religious freedom.

In March this year, a letter signed by 2,500 church ministers and pastoral workers said imposing a ban on talk therapy would violate their legal rights.

The letter to Ms Truss said: “To legislate against such a bizarrely broad category is clearly unsustainable and runs a serious risk of criminalizing us as we carry out our compassionate duties as Christian ministers and pastors. It would be a clear violation of our right legal to manifest our religion.”

How many people have undergone conversion therapy?

A national LGBT survey carried out by the government in 2017 suggested that 5% of LGBT people were offered conversion and 2% went to therapy.

These figures were higher among trans people, with 8% saying they had been offered the therapy and 4% saying they had undergone it.


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