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On Monday 8 March there will be a Westminster Hall debate on an e-petition calling for LGBT conversion therapy to be made illegal in the UK. The debate will be opened by Elliot Colburn MP.
The e-petition calls on the Government to make the provision of conversion therapy a criminal offence and protect individuals from this practice:
I would like the Government to:
make running conversion therapy in the UK a criminal offence
• forcing people to attend said conversion therapies a criminal offence
• sending people abroad in order to try to convert them a criminal offence
• protect individuals from conversion therapy
Despite all major counselling and psychotherapy bodies in the UK, including the NHS, condemning LGBT conversion therapy, it is still legal and LGBT individuals in the UK are still exposed to this psychological and emotional abuse to this day. The very thought of this sickens me, and I would like to see it stopped one day.
The e-petition closed on 13 September 2020; it was signed by over 256,000 people.
In May 2020, the Government Equalities Office published a response to the petition, it said it would work to deepen its understanding and consider all options for ending the practice of conversion therapy.
According to the May 2020 UN Report on Conversion Therapy, conversion therapy is used as an umbrella term to describe interventions of a wide-ranging nature:
[…] all of which have in common the belief that a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity (SOGI) can and should be changed. Such practices aim (or claim to aim) at changing people from gay, lesbian or bisexual to heterosexual and from trans or gender diverse to cisgender. Depending on the context, the term is used for a multitude of practices and methods, some of which are clandestine and therefore poorly documented.
Conversion therapy currently happens in a multitude of countries, in all regions of the world. In 2012, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) noted that “conversion therapies” had no medical justification and represented a severe threat to the health and human rights of the affected persons, and in 2016, the World Psychiatric Association found that “there is no sound scientific evidence that innate sexual orientation can be changed”. In 2020, the Independent Forensic Expert Group (IFEG) has declared that offering “conversion therapy” is a form of deception, false advertising and fraud.
The Government’s National LGBT survey of 108,000 members of the LGBTQ+ community provides some information about the prevalence of conversion therapies in the UK. The survey found that “5% of respondents had been offered so called ‘conversion’ or ‘reparative’ therapy (but did not take it up) and a further 2% had undergone it”. The survey’s reports and the data explorer can be accessed on the Government Equalities Office website.
UK health and mental health organisations have called for the ending of conversion therapy in the UK. In 2017, a Memorandum of Understanding on Conversion Therapy in the UK was signed by NHS England and 12 other psychotherapy bodies, charities and health organisations. The primary purpose of the Memorandum is “the protection of the public through a commitment to ending the practice of ‘conversion therapy in the UK”.
In response to a letter from the Chair of the Petitions Committee in March 2017, Jeremy Hunt, then Secretary of State for Health, said that the Government had consistently condemned conversion therapy and had stressed that no public money should be spent on it. The Government’s July 2018 LGBT Action Plan, committed to “bringing forward proposals to end the practice of conversion therapy in the UK.”
The Government Equalities Office published its response to the e-petition, Make LGBT conversion therapy illegal in the UK, in May 2020. This stated that it would work to deepen its understanding and consider options for ending the practice of conversion therapy:
The Government is committed to ensuring all citizens feel safe and protected from harm. We will work to deepen our understanding and consider all options for ending the practice of conversion therapy.
It is a fundamental principle of this Government that everyone should be free to live their lives as they wish. People must feel safe at home, out on the street and online.
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.
It is important to stress that certain abhorrent and violent practices which may be classed as conversion therapy such as ‘corrective’ rape, or other forms of physical abuse, are already covered by existing criminal offences. Where such practices are already unlawful, we will ensure the law is clear, well understood and enforced. Where dangerous conversion therapy practices are not already unlawful, we will examine the best ways to prevent them being conducted, without sending such practices underground. As we have said previously, we are not trying to prevent LGBT people from seeking spiritual support from their faith leader or others in the exploration of their sexual orientation.
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.
In correspondence with the Chair of the Petitions Committee, Catherine McKinnell, and Elliot Colburn in September 2021, the Minister for Women and equalities, Liz Truss said that the Government was considering both legislative and non-legislative options to end conversion therapy practices for good and that it would outline plans to end conversion therapy practices in due course.
A January 2021 PQ response from the Minister for Equalities, Kemi Badenoch, states that the Government continues to conduct research into this practice (which it will publish in due course) and will introduce steps to end conversion therapy after the findings of the research have been considered.
UN Human Rights, Report on conversion therapy, May 2020
Government Equalities Office, National LGBT Survey, Summary Report, July 2018
Government Equalities Office, LGBT Action plan, July 2018
News articles and press releases
The Independent, Coalition of LGBT+ groups urge government to ‘stop dragging its feet’ on conversion therapy ban, 4 March 2021
The Guardian, Senior faith leaders call for global decriminalisation of LGBT+ people, 16 December 2020
BBC News, Instagram and Facebook to block LGBT ‘conversion therapy’ service, 19 July 2020
GOV.Uk, New Government Action Plan Pledges to Improve the Lives of LGBT People, 3 July 2018
Stonewall, Conversion Therapy
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