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The conversion therapy conversion

The conversion therapy conversion


The government’s conversion therapy ban is going ahead, but will not cover trans people. Why?

Hello, I’m Claudia and this is the Sensemaker from Tortoise.

One story every day to make sense of the world.

Today, why is the T in LGBT being excluded from the UK’s conversion therapy ban?

 “It has been taught as though it is right, it is right, it is how God created you to be. God did not create you that way. Something shifted in your life, which God can fix”

ITV News

That’s an example of “conversion therapy”.

According to NHS England, conversion therapy – sometimes called “reparative therapy” or “gay cure therapy” – tries to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

Those treatments can range from prayer and talking therapies, to electric shock treatment or even physical abuse. 

It’s often associated with America’s “bible belt” states and countries where gay people have few rights.

But that clip you just heard was secretly filmed in 2018 by ITV News at a church in Kent. 

Conversion therapy is technically still legal in the UK through some loopholes in existing laws.

But why are plans to ban conversion therapy leading to ideological clashes that run all the way to the top of government? 

“I think it is abhorrent and has no place in modern Britain. We are determined as a government to end it.”

Theresa May, 2018

“On the gay conversion therapy thing I think thats absolutely abhorrent and has no place in a civilised society and has no place in this country… and we will bring forward plans to ban it.”

Boris Johnson, 2020

Two successive Conservative prime ministers have said they think conversion therapy is “abhorrent” and promised to ban it in the UK. 

 “My Lords and Members of the House of Commons…

Queens Elizabeth II

It was even in last year’s Queen’s Speech, which sets out the government’s plans for the next parliamentary session.

 … Measures will be brought forward to address racial and ethnic disparities and ban conversion therapy.”

Queens Elizabeth II

Despite these assurances –  the ban has been delayed again and again.

Then – just as it seemed a ban was finally going to happen – ITV News revealed that the government would no longer be banning conversion therapy. 

It had seen a leaked document, which said that because of Ukraine and the cost of living crisis there were higher priorities for legislation.  

The recommendation even included announcing the U-turn as part of this year’s Queen’s Speech to reduce the risk of looking like they had singled out an LGBT issue. 

Within three hours of the leak being reported… and faced with a backlash from LGBT groups… the government U-turned on its planned U-turn.

But not entirely… because it removed trans conversion therapy from the ban.

Introducing a ban on gay conversion therapy was good news. But removing the T from LGBT after initially promising to include it was a blow to trans-rights campaigners and some within the Conservative Party. 

A few days earlier the Conservative MPJamie Wallis came out as the UK’s first openly transgender MP. 

At the time he celebrated how inclusive his party was. He said being at a dinner with his Conservative colleagues had reminded him, quote, “of the incredible support those you work with can provide”.

“Mr Speaker, the whole house will have read the statement today from my honourable friend the member for Bridgend. And I know that the House stands with you and we’ll give you the support that you need to live freely as yourself.”

Boris Johnson

But when it emerged that the government had decided not to include trans conversion therapy in its ban, Jamie Wallis tweeted that he was bitterly disappointed – and that it was wrong to exclude protections for a whole group of people from a practice described as “abhorrent”. 

Over 100 organisations also decided to boycott the UK’s first-ever international LGBT+ conference… forcing the government to cancel it. 

The equalities minister Liz Truss had previously said she would be proud to share news of the ban at the event, which was due to take place this summer… 

So why did the government do it?

“There are complexities and sensitivities when you move from the area of sexuality and gender and there are things that still need to be worked out… these are complex issues and I dont think they can be solved with one swift easy piece of legislation, it takes a lot of thought to get this right.”

Boris Johnson

That was the prime minister’s reasoning.

And this is where it gets complicated because being gay or lesbian doesn’t come with a medical diagnosis.

But a growing number of young people are coming to the NHS looking to be treated for gender dysphoria – the medical term for someone who wants to change their gender identity. 

In January 2022 the equalities watchdog, the EHRC, recommended a pause on proposals to ban conversion therapy… due to fears that it could have an effect on exploratory treatment for under 18s with gender dysphoria. 

The concern is that a broad law banning all conversion therapy risks criminalising doctors, teachers or parents who might speak to a young person about their gender dysphoria.

That was essentially the government’s argument for not including trans conversion therapy.

In its handling of such a sensitive issue the government has angered many LGBT campaigners it hoped it could get on side. 

Today’s story was written by Phoebe Davis and produced by Imy Harper.