My government has let me down, again. Am I of any value to them? They certainly don’t seem concerned about me. They made me a promise, told me to wait and wait, but never kept it and now…
In July 2018 prime minister Theresa May promised to ban conversion therapy. In 2019, Boris Johnson repeated the pledge during that year’s general election campaign. Yet here we are, November 2023, and again there is no sign of the promised ban. This month’s King’s Speech, were the government outlines the legalisation they plan to present to parliament, saw no mention of banning conversion therapy, so it remains completely legal to carry on abusing LGBTQ+ people in the name of conversion therapy.
I’ve made no secret that I survived conversion therapy, in my late teens, but the harm didn’t end when I broke away from it. I suffered from depression, flashbacks, problems accepting my sexuality and severe difficulties making and keeping relationships throughout my twenties. I lost my twenties to the depression caused by the emotional abuse I just couldn’t shake off. It wasn’t until I was twenty-eight, and a wonderful counsellor called Gale Simon helped me put my life back together.
“I refuse to acknowledge that so-called ‘conversion therapy’ is therapy in any way. It is mental and physical abuse. Some would call it torture,” said 76-year-old transgender woman Carolyn Merce. And she is right, she lived throw it. But it isn’t just personal stories, like hers and mine. There is a great deal of evidence that conversion therapy doesn’t work, and actually harms people. A brief literature search, of two peer reviewed medical journal databases, on a Sunday afternoon, and I found ten references that conversion therapy doesn’t work and sixteen references that it causes harm. This was by no means a comprehensive search, I am certain that there is a far bigger pool of evidence of the harm it causes and its complete ineffectiveness. Why hasn’t it been banned yet, as we were promised?
Brazil, Samoa, Fiji, Argentina, Ecuador, Malta, Uruguay, Spain, Taiwan and Germany have all banned it, so why hasn’t Britain?
Earlier this year, Penny Mordaunt, the leader of the House of Commons, said that draft legislation would be published before the end of that parliamentary session. That parliamentary session ended and we are now in a new one, but no ban was put before parliament. In September, a spokesperson for No 10, the seat of British government, refused to say if the government had plans to ban it. Then loud rumours came out that the government had dropped plans for any ban.
Agovernment press release about the King’s Speech, issued on 4th November, made no mention of a conversion therapy ban. By many this was taken as an indication of the government’s plans, and they were proved right. On 7th November, King Charles delivered the government’s King’s Speech and there was no mention of a conversion therapy ban, again.
“I am angered but sadly not surprised by the government’s decision to drop a ban on conversion practices. The prime minister has shown a callous disregard for LGBT+ lives of late and has chosen to prioritise listening to perpetrators over that of engaging with victims of abuse.” Jayne Ozanne, founder of the Ban Conversion Therapy Coalition.
It quickly became clear the Tory Back Bench MP Miriam Cates had been lobbying other Tory MPs for prime minister Rishi Sunak to drop the ban. Her texts to fellow MPs claimed that the ban would “criminalise” parents and doctors who “council” children against changing gender. She also claimed that the ban will “split” the Conservative party and “anger” their base. Both claims were not backed by any evidence but 40 Tory MPs signed her letter. There are 350 Conservative MPs in Parliament, which means only 11.4% supported Cates, but Sunak gave into her claims.
Miriam Cates is a notoriously Anti-Trans Evangelical Christian. She wrote anarticle claiming, again without any evidence, that banning conversion therapy will stop parents and doctors from helping “confused young people”. However, conversion therapists prey on confused people, not helping them but damaging them, as the evidence shows. But Cates’s views are also shared by the Evangelical Alliance, who says they represent 3,500 churches, and argue a ban would restrict “religious freedoms”. More and more though, the support for conversion therapy is disappearing, especially as the truth of it emerges.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists and the Royal College of General Practitioners have also called for a ban, both of whom promote evidence based healthcare. While the UK Council for Psychotherapy said of it: “Exclusion, stigma and prejudice may precipitate mental health issues for any person subjected to these abuses.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission says legislation outlawing conversion therapy is overdue. Their chair, Baroness Kishwer Falkner, wrote to Women and Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch, stating the legislation "is needed".
The Church of England’s General Synod called for the government to ban it, in 2017, after hearing experiences of “spiritual abuse” practiced in the name of conversion therapy. John Sentamu, the archbishop of York, said conversion therapy was “theologically unsound, so the sooner the practice is banned, I can sleep at night”. And more than 370 religious leaders, around the world, are calling for a ban on conversion therapy.
But isn’t it a practice only abusing a small number of people? The Government’s own research found 7% of LGBTQ+ people have experienced some type of conversion practice. While the Ban Conversion Therapy Coalition’s online survey, of the LGBTQ community, found 40% ofrespondents said they had undergone some form of it. Would any other form of “therapy” that abused people to the degree that conversion practice does, with zero success rate, be even tolerated?
A YouGov poll found 62% of voters wanted the ban, a fact that any government facing a General Election should be taking notice of, but not this one. Rishi Sunak seems to be more interested in listening to a small minority of his MPs, 11.4%, then medical and church bodies and a large percentage of voters.
Fortunately, there has been an outcry, in parliament, against this broken promise. Labour has promised to ban conversion therapy, with no acceptations, when they get back into government. On 7th October, Labour MP Anneliese Dodds, the chairwoman of the Labour Party, promised to ban conversion therapy, with “no loopholes”, if Labour are in power after the next general election. But Labour are still in opposition and there isn’t a hope for a general election until next year.
The has also been an outcry from within the Tory party. “We’re looking at every possible opportunity and we’re definitely not going to let this drop,” said Tory MP Elliot Colburn in reply to the ban being dropped. This isn’t surprising. Only 40 Tory MPs signed that letter to Rishi Sunak and there are large and public divisions within the Tory party. But why weren’t Colburn and his supporters lobbying Sunak while they were writing the King’s Speech? A letter signed by only 40 Tory MPs swayed Sunak’s mind.
On Thursday 9th November, two days after the King’s Speech, a bipartisan Private Member’s Bill to ban conversion therapy, the “Conversion Therapy Prohibition (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity)” bill, was announced. It was drawn first that day in the House of Lords ballot. It was introduced by the vice chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group, Baroness Burt of Solihull. The bill would set a blanket ban on conversion therapy. There will finally be a debate in parliament about banning conversion therapy but I don’t see this Private Member’s Bill going further than that.
The Parliamentary session 2019-21, saw 192 Private Members’ Bills put before parliament, but only 7 received royal assent, became law. That is only 3.6% of Private Members’ Bills became law. The vast majority failed because they didn’t make it past the second reading stage. In a normal Parliamentary year, thirteen Fridays are allocated for debates of Private Members’ Bills, which take place between the 9.30am and 2.30pm. Even if a Bill is approved at Second Reading, MPs second debate of the bill, the progress beyond that to it becoming law is not guaranteed because the Government can veto it by refusing to introduce a Money Resolution or a Ways and Means Resolution, were the impact on the public themselves and the public purse is assessed.
Unfortunately, there is very little chance this Private Members’ Bill will become law. This Tory government has already dropped the promise to ban it, why would they support a Private Members’ Bill banning it?
The only chance of getting a legal ban on conversion therapy is to wait for a Labour government, which is probably a year away, and even then, will it be an immediate priority for them? They will have an economy that is in free-fall, under resourced public services, with poor staff morale, that are failing to meet targets, and a cost-of-living crisis effecting all but the rich. Will banning conversion therapy be top of their list of laws to get through parliament?
I cannot turn back the clock and prevent my younger self becoming sucked into conversion therapy, I cannot change or prevent the hurt and abuse I suffered, and nor will a ban of conversion therapy do this. What it will do is prevent young and/or vulnerable LGBTQ people being abused and damaged in the name of conversion therapy, it will stop other LGBTQ people being driven to suicide because of what happened to them during conversion therapy. It will stop other people living through the nightmare that I did, and that thought gives me so much hope and relief. I want that to happen tomorrow, but again this government has let me down and ignored me, and there will be no ban in the near future.
Alan Cumming, actor and writer, said: “It’s not just about banning conversion therapy, it’s about sending a message to young queer people that their government does not believe there’s anything wrong with them, and that they have no need to convert or change. Until conversion therapy is banned, the UK government is sending a message that it is inherently homophobic.”
Many people still say that conversion therapy should still be offered if people want it, it’s that person’s personal choice. I question how much it is a choice, how many people are forced and/or pressurised into going into it. I didn’t make an informed choice when I went into it. But my response, to this claim, is different. As a healthcare professional, no other healthcare professional, therapist or professional should be offering it, because they should only be offering evidence based care. Care and therapies where there is evidence that they work and are beneficial. There is no evidence that conversion therapy works and a lot of evidence that it is very harmful to those who undertake it. It is very unprofessional to offer anyone conversion therapy.