After a series of delays and U-turns, the UK government has said it will go ahead with its promise to ban conversion therapy, an extremely damaging and wholly debunked practice that attempts to "convert" people to become heterosexual and/or cisgender.
Crucially, however, the conversion therapy ban will exclude transgender individuals. This is despite polls finding that 13 percent of trans people in the UK have reported being subjected to harmful conversion therapy, according to Ban Conversion Therapy.
The UK government committed to banning all conversion therapy in May 2021 following an initial promise in their 2018 LGBT Action Plan, but continued to delay action. Leaked documents seen by ITV News suggested the government was looking to scrap the ban altogether, but Prime Minister Boris Johnson staged a hasty U-turn after facing backlash over the leak, announcing the ban was going ahead after all with some significant limitations.
On March 31, 2022 – Trans Day of Visibility – the government announced it had changed its position by only committing to ban conversion therapy for gay and bisexual individuals, excluding trans people.
Given the data showing how the trans community is massively impacted by conversation therapy attempts, many LGBTQ+ rights organizations are arguing that this decision has been driven by politics and the ongoing “culture war,” not science.
“As a trans person it's hard to express how I feel about this,” Sophie Duncan from End Conversion Therapy Scotland said in a statement.
“This is not a U-Turn. This is Trans people once again being left behind and forgotten. This is the government saying that we are not worthy of protection. Again."
The World Health Organization (WHO) removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders in 1990. Despite this, there are still widespread – and legal – practices of trying to “cure” people of their sexual or gender identity as if it were a mental health condition.
Early conversion therapies involved lobotomies and aversion therapies, such as giving people electric shocks while they looked at erotic material. Nowadays, it tends to rely on more pseudo-scientific behavioral techniques, often accompanied by prayer.
There is no evidence that so-called conversion therapy can change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The practice is known to be extremely harmful to LGBTQ+ individuals, with numerous studies linking conversion therapy to psychological distress, poor mental health, and suicide attempts. Given its profound impact on mental health, experts at the United Nations Human Rights Council have described the practice as akin to “torture.”
“After years of delay in which LGBTQ+ people in the UK have continued to suffer as a consequence of conversion practices, it's devastating to hear that the UK government is again breaking its promise to our communities, walking away from its commitment to end conversion therapy,” Stonewall, an LGBT rights charity in the UK, said in a statement.
“Conversion practices cause extreme and often lifelong distress to LGBTQ+ people. Countries around the world are acting to ban this homophobic, biphobic and transphobic abuse, and it is shameful that the UK government is not amongst them.”