UK government continues to stall on banning conversion therapy
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.
The latest development on this issue has been a debate in Parliament.
How did we get here?
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 in early 2020. 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 quickly reached.
The Government Equalities Office responded to the petition in May 2020. 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.”
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 in July 2020. “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.”
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 happened at the parliamentary debate on conversion therapy?
The parliamentary debate on conversion therapy was triggered by the 2020 petition.
What was encouraging was that members of parliament from all parties voiced their support for a ban on conversion therapy.
Equalities minister, Kemi Badenoch – speaking on behalf of the government – said the government was “committed” to “ending” it, and took the issue “very seriously”.
Badenoch went on to say that said the government did not want to stop those who “seek spiritual counselling as they explore their sexual orientation”.
What are the next steps in banning conversion therapy in the UK?
It’s really not clear. The government is continuing to repeat its line that it takes the issue seriously and is looking at it, but no action is being taken. This is something that they’ve supposedly been “studying” since at least May 2020 but there is still no proposed legislation or even any timeline on when the required legislation will be brought forward.
It’s important to remember that taking action on this issue is totally within the government’s power. Not only does it have the necessary parliamentary majority to pass any legislation that it wants to, it also has – as evidenced by the parliamentary debate – widespread support from all political parties.
The government is choosing not to act.
We need action, not excuses and delays. We need to protect queer kids.
What’s life like for LGBTQ people in the UK?
What’s life like for LGBTQ people in the UK? Let’s take a look at some of the key equality indicators.
Is homosexuality legal in the UK?
Yes. Same-sex sexual activity was decriminalised in 1967.
The age of consent is 16, regardless of sexuality.
Are there anti-discrimination protections in place for LGBTQ people in the UK?
Yes. Comprehensive anti-discrimination protections were implemented in 2010.
Is there Marriage Equality in the UK?
Yes, Marriage Equality was adopted in 2014.
What’s life like for LGBTQ people in the UK?
Recent decades have seen some real progress in terms of equality for LGBTQ people in the UK.
Landmarks include decriminalisation in 1967, the equalisation of the age of consent in 2001, the removal of Section 28 in 2003, and the introduction of Marriage Equality in 2014.
There are still challenges, but overall the UK is a pretty good place for LGBTQ people to live their lives.
There is a vibrant and visible LGBTQ community throughout the UK.
How has the UK shaped the experience of LGBTQ people around the world?
While the UK is now seen as one of the best parts of the world in terms of LGBTQ equality, the history of the UK – and its aggressive colonisation of other countries – has had a profoundly negative impact on millions of LGBTQ people and continues to play a powerful role in shaping the LGBTQ experience around the world.
English law first listed anal sex as a crime in 1533. The Buggery Act proscribed that anal sex – buggery – was punishable with the death sentence. Anyone convicted of buggery would be hanged.
This was during the rule of Henry VIII. Prior to 1533, it was the ecclesiastical courts that dealt with same-sex sexual activity, but Henry VIII wanted to end the dominance of the Catholic Church in England and so there was an increased focus on codifying England’s laws.
The Buggery Act was used to prosecute and execute countless gay men. James Pratt and John Smith were the last two men to be executed for sodomy – they were executed in 1835.
In 1861, the death penalty was formally removed from the offence of buggery, but same-sex sexual activity remained a crime – punishable by imprisonment – until 1967.
The British Empire
From the late 16th century, Britain look a leading role in the creating of trade routes around the world and the colonisation of other countries. At the height of its power, the British Empire controlled 23% of the world’s population – including large parts of Africa, Asia, and the Americas.
In order to establish administrative control over the areas that it conquered, Britain would impose its legal system onto any territory that controlled and colonies that it established. Crucially, this included the provisions of the Buggery Act of 1533.
While the British Empire no longer exists, the countries that have since sought independence from British control have retained the British legal system. In numerous cases, the prohibition against same-sex sexual activity has been deliberately retained – even though it is a law that no longer exists in Britain.
British colonialism created systemic homophobia across the world – homophobia and persecution that wasn’t dismantled after the fall of the British Empire.
Queer war history
We don’t often hear about LGBTQ people as war heroes, but the reality is that throughout history there have been queer people present and playing their part.
Contributing to the lack of visibility of LGBTQ people during wartime has been the criminalisation of homosexuality.
Homosexuality wasn’t decriminalised in the UK until 1967 – 22 years after the end of WWII.
Consequently, many gay men enlisted or conscripted during wartime would have tried to keep their sexuality hidden – for fear of being ostracised or reported to their superiors for ‘indecency’.
Records show that during WWII at least 230 men from the British armed forces were charged and sent to prison because they were gay.
But life in the military was liberating in many ways for gay men – a homocentric world in which intimacy between men was commonplace.
This phenomenon wasn’t limited to the UK. Ports such as San Francisco became hubs for gay men as sailors who completed their service at the end of World War II adopted it as their home and embraced the freedom and sexual liberation of a fresh start in a new city.
Let’s take a look at some of the queer wartime heroes that we can all be proud of.
Alan Turing is one of the UK’s most notable heroes of WWII.
Turing was a mathematician and code-breaker at Bletchley during WWII. He was described by Winston Churchill as the ‘biggest contribution to the victory against the Nazis’.
What was Turing’s reward? A prison sentence for ‘gross indecency’ and chemical castration. State-sanctioned homophobic persecution drove him to suicide at the age of 41.
Ian Gleed joined the UK’s Royal Air Force at the age of twenty, qualifying as a pilot in 1936.
A gay man whose sexuality was widely known among his friends, Gleed had to be discrete in order to avoid being court-martialled by the military.
Gleed flew for the RAF throughout WWII, receiving numerous honours.
In 1943, while on patrol over Tunisia, Gleed was shot down and killed.
Conscripted in 1941, aged 20, Dudley Cave was a gay man who joined the UK army as a driver.
During the fall of Singapore in 1942, Cave was captured by the Japanese. As a prisoner-of-war, he was put to work building railway in Thailand and then held in prison until the end of the war.
Teaching LGBTQ history in schools
It’s essential that young LGBTQ people are taught about the contribution that queer people have made to the world throughout history.
We are not some subversive minority out to upset the status quo, we are essential members of any community and we have every right to be proud of our past and confident about our future.