conversion therapy
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Philip Baldwin, LGBTQ activist, discusses the significant developments around “conversion therapy” among the LGBTQ community in the UK

June is traditionally Pride Month in the UK. With so many events cancelled because of the Coronavirus pandemic, this year’s Pride Month was anything but traditional.

Some Pride organisations and charities sought to host virtual Pride events. These do help reduce the isolation many LGBTQ people experienced during lockdown, although it is difficult to reflect the unique blend of protest, commemoration and celebration we are used to from our Pride festivals.

But there were a few developments around “conversion therapy” which represent significant progress for the LGBTQ community.

In July 2018, the government’s LGBT Action Plan committed to end the practice of so-called “conversion therapy”. After a period of extensive lobbying on 29 May the Parliamentary APPG on Global LGBT Rights, currently headed by Crispin Blunt, sent a cross-party letter addressed to Liz Truss, the Minister for Women and Equalities, calling for urgent legislation on “conversion therapy”.

Liz Truss replied to the cross-party APPG letter promptly, indicating that we can anticipate legislation soon. She wrote: “I fundamentally disagree with attempts to forcibly change someone’s sexuality and I will shortly be bringing forward plans to end conversion therapy.”

Legislation in Germany

Whilst this is cause to celebrate, there were several ambiguities in her response. Liz Truss went on to state that she would be looking to other countries, including Germany, for guidance as to how the UK legislation should be constructed.

Germany introduced its ban on “conversion therapy” on 7 May, with a maximum prison sentence of one year for anyone who practices “conversion therapy” on anyone under the age of 18. In Germany the situation surrounding adults and “conversion therapy” is more ambiguous. It appears that “conversion therapy” will be allowed to continue where adults “consent”.

Many LGBTQ people, despite being over the age of 18, particularly in very religious households or where they are at the beginning of a journey of discovery surrounding their sexuality or gender identity, may be in situations where the opinion of faith leaders or parents hold too much sway for them to object.

German campaigners against “conversion therapy” wanted the German government to go much further than it did, seeking a total ban. This is what is required in the UK and the German model should not be used as a template.

Liz Truss’ language also centres around ending “conversion therapy” to change an individual’s sexuality. There is no mention of ending “conversion therapy” to change an individual’s gender identity. Going back to the original 2017 survey, which was used as a basis for the 2018 LGBT Action Plan, the “conversion therapy” statistics were higher for trans respondents (9% of trans men had been offered it and 4%had undergone it). When the legislation is introduced it must also protect trans people from so-called “conversion therapy”.

Trans rights

It should be noted that Liz Truss’ announcement on “conversion therapy” was followed by leaked documents and rumours suggesting that the government will be introducing far more limited reforms to the Gender Recognition Act 2004, than were promised when the LGBT Action Plan was launched.

Sadly, the “conversion therapy” announcement, so important in its own right, now appears to have been made to appease or distract the LGBTQ community around trans rights. Whatever the actual intention, the LGBTQ community’s trust in the government is (understandably) at such a low ebb that a plausible narrative can be interpreted where the government is trying to play one side off against the other.

Pride Month ended with the Ozanne Foundation, headed by leading gay evangelical Jayne Ozanne, who sits on both the Church of England’s General Synod and the Government’s LGBT Advisory Panel, launching its new Inter-religious Advisory Board.

Senior individuals from across the main religions and Christian denominations have united to tackle discrimination against LGBTQ people. They have already been speaking out about the need to ban “conversion therapy” and the centrality of trans rights to the LGBTQ movement.

Jayne endured years of harmful conversion therapy herself and she has always emphasised the urgency of legislation, as it will empower LGBTQ Christians in the UK to reject attempts to persuade them to participate in so-called “conversion therapy”. LGBTQ Christians desperately need and deserve this legal protection.

Jayne heads the Ozanne Foundation. If you would like to learn more about the charity or donate, then please follow this link. 

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