They were dotted throughout the London Pride march. On all different types of banners and placards, some very professionally produced and others homemade but often more pithy. All of them demanding the same thing:
BAN CONVERSION THERAPY!
Every time I saw one, I would smile, partly to show my support and gratitude to the person carrying the banner, and partly to myself. To see the dangerous threat of conversion therapy so openly denounced by the LGBTQ community was so reassuring.
It was on the tube ride home, that the thought struck me, why the hell hasn’t it already been banned? Weren’t we promised that it would be?
Conversion therapy is described as “an attempt to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity”. It has been deeply discredited and shown to be extremely dangerous and damaging to those who have experienced it. Back in July 2018, Theresa May promised to ban it. In July 2020, Boris Johnson said it was "absolutely abhorrent" and "[had] no place in this country". In May 2021, it was announced in the Queen’s Speech that the government planned to ban it, but only after consultation with “key stakeholders”. Then in March 2022, Johnson dropped any plans for a ban. But the next month, April 2022, plans for a ban were back on. In June this year, we were told that all it needed was for Rishi Sunak to sign the bill and the ban would be law, but it is now July and he still hasn’t signed it. What is happening? Why is the government dragging its feet? Is it that difficult to ban conversion therapy?
Sasha Misra, associate director of communications at Stonewall, said: “Five years and four prime ministers later and we are still waiting for this ban to come to fruition. In the meantime, lives have continued to be ruined while these damaging attempts to ‘cure’ LGBTQ+ of being themselves remain legal."
But theban would only be a partial ban and a very weak one, under the government’s proposals. It wouldn’t cover trans people and wouldn’t apply to anyone who “consented” to it. These is such huge loopholes and render the ban useless. The person only has to agree to it and/or say they are confused about their gender and the conversion therapy is legal. Conversion therapy preys on people who are vulnerable, confused about their sexuality and/or their gender, and this ban will do nothing to protect them.
I survived conversion therapy, as a late teenager, but it left me very damaged. My twenties were marred by PTSD, depression, suicide attempts and an inability to form relationships. I lost ten years of my life to the harm it caused me. Yet this ban would not have protected me because I contacted the ex-gay organisation and agreed to be “cured” by them, because I was so afraid of my sexuality back then. Therefore, it could be argued I consented to it. But my opinion alone, of the harm it does, should not be what policy is based on. It should be based on the evidence and the evidence against conversion therapy is huge.
D Haldeman identified that it causes poor self-esteem, depression, social withdrawal, and sexual dysfunction. Anna Forsythe’s research found that survivors of conversion therapy experienced 50% more mental health problems, twice as much depression, 25% more substance use, 50% higher rate of attempted suicide and 67% more experienced moderate to severe injury from those attempts, than someone who hasn’t been through it. But these are not the only, scientific evidence of the harm it does, and how useless it is. Here is a list of scientific and healthcare professional articles that identify the harm conversion therapy causes.
References that conversion therapy is harmful:
Wolf & Platt (2022)
References that conversion therapy doesn’t work:
This is by no way a comprehensive list of the evidence. It is the result of only a brief literature search, of only a few databases, carried out on a Sunday afternoon, on my laptop. A much more in-depth literature search would produce a much more comprehensive and much longer list of evidence. All the above references are from peer reviewed publications or professional bodies.
Brazil in 1999,
Samoa in 2007,
Fiji in 2010,
Argentina in 2010,
Ecuador in 2014
Malta in 2016.
Uruguay in 2017,
Spain in 2017
Taiwan in 2018
Germany in 2020,
Queensland State in Australia 2020, followed by Victoria State,
Chile, India and Canada in 2021,
Since 2013, 20 states, two territories, and multiple local counties or municipalities in the United States.
If we have so much evidence and so many other countries before us have banned it, why hasn’t the British government already done so? I am sure someone will make the argument that legislating to ban conversion therapy isn’t easy. My reply would always be, it’s the government’s job to write and implement difficult legislation, and to do it well. They have all the resources to do it. But this government is now deliberately dragging their feet over this. I wonder if this is part of their “war on woke” attitude? This government’s strategy to blame and attack unpopular minorities, such as trans people, immigrants, and anyone else the Daily Mail newspaper doesn’t like, to try and appeal to their right-wing base voters. Whatever the reason, the government’s reluctance/refusal to ban conversion therapy speaks volumes about how little they value LGBTQ people.
I do know that if there was a quack therapy that tried to “cure” Evangelical Christians of their believes, but failed to do so and left its victims very damaged, or dead from suicide, then Evangelical Christians would be screaming for it to be banned. Would this government be so slow to ban it?
PS. I do not like the term “conversion therapy”. It gives this dangerous and completely unethical bullying a veneer of respectability, implying that it is somehow medical/clinical. I prefer to call it “ex-gay”, which tells us how impossible it is.