Why won’t the UK government ban Conversion Therapy?
One of the micro-aggressions that LGBTQ are challenged with every day is constantly having to defend our existence.
The latest example of this comes from the UK, where the parliament recently launched a survey about Conversion Therapy. The tweet launching the survey even included a handy hashtag – just to help get #ConversionTherapy trending, I guess?
It’s well documented that there’s no such thing as Conversion Therapy. Any process that purports to be able to change someone’s sexuality from one thing to another is emotional and psychological abuse dressed up in the language of therapy, counselling, and religion. Any attempt at ‘conversion’ of sexuality is particularly damaging for young people.
The practice described as Conversion Therapy has been banned in a number of countries around the world, but it’s still legal in the UK. As the LGBTQ community has made equality gains in the UK, it’s one of the biggest priorities remaining – protecting young queer kids from damaging pseudo-medical interventions.
In the face of inaction by the UK government, who have consistently failed to address the issue, a petition was launched. The petition was created by Mahed Asad using the official petitions process. Under the UK’s parliamentary process, if a petition secures at least 100,000 signatures then it must be brought before parliament for debate. That threshold for the ‘Ban Conversion Therapy’ petition was reached earlier this year.
The Government Equalities Office responded to the petition in May. The response included the statement: “Conversion therapy is a very complex issue. There are a wide range of practices which may fall within its scope and we want to ensure we have a thorough understanding of the situation in the UK to inform an effective approach. Before any decision is made on proposals for ending conversion therapy we must understand the problem, the range of options available and the impact they would have.”
The response from the Government Equalities Office went on to say: “The UK Government is committed to ensuring all citizens feel safe and are protected from harm. This is why we will work to deepen our understanding and consider all options for ending the practice of conversion therapy.”
The survey launched – and subsequently withdrawn – by the House of Commons appears to have been an attempt to push the discussion. It appears to have been done with the right intentions, just not thought through. Creating surveys and encouraging everyone to ‘have their say’ about the practice known as Conversion Therapy gives this damaging practice a legitimacy that is unwarranted and dangerous. It creates a ‘we need to hear both sides’ narrative about something that doesn’t need to be discussed. If the UK isn’t at a point yet where the existence of LGBTQ people is not up for debate, then we’ve got real problems.
It is totally within the government’s power – it has a sufficient parliamentary majority – to simply pass the legislation required to stop the harmful process and protect queer kids. The government is choosing not to act.
“On the gay conversion therapy thing, I think that’s absolutely abhorrent and has no place in a civilised society, and has no place in this country…” said Boris Johnson, UK Prime Minister, when asked about the issue recently. “What we are going to do is a study right now on, you know, where is this actually happening, how prevalent is it, and we will then bring forward plans to ban it.”
Why do we need another study? What are the unanswered questions or the gaps in our knowledge about so-called Conversion Therapy? We need action, not excuses and delays. We need to protect queer kids.
In parliament on 22 July, Liz Truss – Minister for Women and Equalities, the department that has responsibility for this area of law – made a statement confirming the government’s commitment to banning conversion therapy: “Our action will be determined by research to look at how best to define Conversion Therapy, the scale of the issue, where it is happening, and who it is happening to. When that is complete, I will bring forward proposals to ban Conversion Therapy, making sure that our measures are effective, so that no innocent people have to endure these torturous practices.”
What action the department has actually taken in relation to any of this remains unclear. Three weeks have now elapsed since the minister’s statement to parliament, but we seem to be no further forward. No update is available from the Government Equalities Office and no one in the department seems able to advise what timeline they’re actually working to on this issue.