UK MPs simply don’t care enough to ban conversion therapy

“I went into total denial about my sexuality and embraced the idea that I had been ‘cured,’” George, an LGBTQ woman in her thirties who went through gay conversion therapy, told Stonewall.

“My mental health bombed and my self-harm increased dramatically. In 2009, I tried to kill myself. It was only last year, aged 38, I finally accepted that I am gay.”

One in five LGBTQ+ people and more than a third of trans people in the UK have been subject to conversion therapy, new data from LGBTQ anti-abuse charity Galop reveals.

This is despite an industry-wide acknowledgement that the pseudo practice is abuse. We know we can’t make people straight if they’re gay, but still, conversion therapy practices taking place today involve processes of psychoanalysis and behaviour modification to try to convince people they are straight.

The practice is still legal in the UK despite condemnation from the NHS, the United Nations, the Government Equalities Office and the House of Commons Women and Equalities Select Committee.

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Conversion therapy has been banned by Canada, France, New Zealand and many other countries. In 2018, the Conservative government committed to banning the practice. Earlier this month, plans to do so were dropped from the King’s Speech.

Even within the Tories, there are fractures. Calling the practice “abuse,” Alicia Kearns, a prominent backbench MP who chairs the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, has said some Tories simply don’t believe conversion therapy is wrong. “Too many are constructing narratives to cover for the reality (that) they believe conversion therapy is a legitimate practice.”

The reason it has been dropped is because the government thinks it falls in the category of ‘simply too complicated’ and a bill would be too difficult to pass. But many other countries – including Canada, France and New Zealand – have managed to do just that.

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“The complexity of a ban is overstated,” said Professor Ilias Trispiotis, Chair in Human Rights Law and Co-Director at the Centre for Law & Social Justice. “The government is aware of incontrovertible evidence from the NHS, the World Psychiatric Association, and the United Nations showing that so-called ‘conversion therapy’ practices are unethical, inherently coercive and discriminatory, and can cause grave harm.”

Professor Trispiotis said “there is little reason” why the UK cannot follow the precedent set by other nations’ legislation.

Many of those within the LGBTQ community have challenges with identity from childhood. The existence of abusive programmes like conversion therapy only reinforce the self-perpetuating stigmas many LGBTQ people face, even if they themselves are not subject to it.

As Dr Joseph Barker, a member of the Counselling Directory, explains, queer people grow up in a “world where their identity is routinely pointed out as ‘different’”.

Conversion therapy, he says, “reinforces the belief that a queer identity is bad, dangerous, and the difference in sexuality makes that person’s identity morally unacceptable.”

The government’s failure to follow through on this promise is a signal that they simply don’t care about this, and are unwilling to make the time for it. It feels surreal that in a western country like the UK, this abuse is able to happen in plain sight.

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