Conversion Therapy: A Tale of Empty Promises

In the third article for the LGBTQIA+ Advocacy Group's blog takeover to mark International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, Ben Murphy discusses conversion therapy and Conservative resistance to banning the practice.

The government announced in the Queen’s Speech last week that it finally intends to implement a far-reaching ban on conversion therapy across the United Kingdom. Or so they would have you believe. In reality, the announcements made in the Queen’s Speech were highly disappointing to LGBT+ Rights campaigners, merely promising to hold a consultation on whether to bring forward a ban and who, if anyone, should be exempted from it.

Anyone who is familiar with the attitude of this current Conservative government towards the LGBT+ community is unlikely to be surprised. A long-promised consultation on reforming the Gender Recognition Act took place over the course of 2018, with large numbers of respondents supportive of the proposed changes that would have made it easier for transgender and non-binary people to live their lives as they wish. Polling showed that the general public was also supportive of these changes. However, the government ultimately decided to shelve the reforms, arguing that the Gender Recognition Act was suitable in its current form. 

The government’s current approach to LGBT+ rights is a far cry from David Cameron’s ‘compassionate conservatism.’ For all its faults, the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government made some progress in advancing LGBT+ rights, most notably legalizing same-sex marriage in England and Wales. For many, these changes provided hope that the nasty party had moved beyond the social conservatism that had long defined it. However, with the right of the party gaining influence in recent years, it is increasingly obvious that Britain’s LGBT+ community may have hard years ahead.

Conversion therapy is an abhorrent practice rooted in homophobia and transphobia. No one should be told their identity is something that can be cured. Conversion therapy is morally wrong; it subjects LGBT+ people to cruel and degrading treatment and in many cases can lead to severe mental and physical health consequences for those who suffer through it. Physical violence, sexual violence, forced marriage, and psychological abuse are not off the table for the perpetrators of conversion therapy, even in the otherwise tolerant environment of the United Kingdom. Furthermore, the continued existence of conversion therapy allows for the continual painting of a narrative that an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity is something that is in some way wrong and can be cured.

Sadly, conversion therapy is not as rare a practice as many people would believe. Figures collected by LGBT+ Rights group Stonewall highlight the extent of conversion therapy in the United Kingdom. All in all, one in twenty LGBT+ people have been pressured to access conversion therapy when accessing health services. This rises to one in ten Black, Asian, and minority ethnic LGBT+ people, and a similar proportion of disabled LGBT+ people. 

Transgender people are by far the most likely to be pressured to access conversion therapy or to question their gender identity; one in five - that is twenty percent - of transgender people have been pressured to access conversion therapy or to suppress their gender identity when accessing healthcare services.

Many may ask why on earth the government is resistant to banning this practice. Substantial majorities of British people want to see the practice banned. There is support for a move across all parties, age groups, and among religions and non-religious people. There are clearly no electoral motivations for Boris Johnson’s government to be resistant to a ban on conversion therapy. With recent developments indicating the government will hold a consultation on the issue, perhaps we will finally see conversion therapy banned across the United Kingdom.

However, the influence of more conservative groups on the government is clear to see, and Boris Johnson has made incendiary comments in the past towards the LGBT+ community. Until the practice is banned, pressure must be kept on the government, to make it clear that conversion therapy is a damaging relic of homophobia and transphobia from decades passed. It has no place in modern Britain.


Ben Murphy is a postgraduate student at the University of Manchester. He is the Secretary of the University of Manchester Young Fabians and the Gay Officer for the Young Fabians LGBTQIA+ Advocacy Group. He tweets at @benmurph99.

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