Conversion therapy in the UK

What is it happening with the conversion therapy in the UK? Just today, April 1st 2022, the prime minister has been widely condemned after first U-turning on plans to ban conversion therapy, before changing tack again and promising that a ban would be forthcoming – though reportedly, it will not include trans conversion therapy.

The past

The fiasco comes four years after Theresa May first promised the ban the pseudo-scientific practice, which has been thoroughly debunked by countless medical, psychological and healthcare professionals worldwide.

Johnson picked up the mantle a year after he became prime minister, and since 2020 has been talking up a proposed ban.

It’s been reported that after his most recent shift in thinking, an LGB-only ban will be presented as part of May’s Queen’s Speech – though the queer community has been quick to tell the prime minister that a ban that doesn’t protect trans people is no ban at all.

In the world

Without the full ban, the UK government is lagging behind Brazil, Ecuador, Malta, Taiwan, and Germany which all have national bans on conversion therapy.

There are partial, indirect or regional bans in Spain, Uruguay, Mexico, Australia, Albania, India, Fiji, Samoa, Argentina, Albania and Norway.

In the US, several states and many cities have banned the practice, but America has no federal ban on conversion therapy.

Canada, France and New Zealand all rang in 2022 by banning conversion therapy. The Netherlands introduced a bill earlier this year seeking to outlaw the discredited practice.

The state in the UK

Johnson’s proposed ban would only cover England and Wales. But Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon last year pledged that the SNP will outlaw the “discriminatory and harmful practice” of conversion therapy.

The Welsh government has also signalled in the wake of Johnson’s U-turn that it will seek to take matters into its own hands.

NHS England has disavowed conversion therapy as “unethical and potentially harmful”.

Leading mental health charity Mind warned conversion practices “cause psychological and physical harm to individuals who are subject to it” and international LGBT+ organisation IGLA World warns it has a “destructive effect on people’s lives from a very early age”.

UK charity Stonewall says that the practice is based on an incorrect “assumption” that being LGBT+ is a “mental illness that can be ‘cured’”.

What is so-called conversion therapy?

Conversion therapy is the use of methods, such as aversive stimulation or religious counselling, to change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation.

It is also used in an attempt to persuade trans people to alter their gender identity to correspond with the sex they had at birth. There is a interesting documentary called Pray Away to watch to understand the phenomenon on Netflix.

How many people in the UK have experienced conversion therapy?

The exact number is not known, but a National LGBT Survey done by the Government in 2017 suggested that 5% of LGBT people have been offered conversion, and 2% have undergone the therapy.

These figures were higher among trans people, with 8% saying they had been offered the therapy, and 4% reporting having undergone it.

Where has conversion therapy been banned so far?

In 1999, Brazil became the first country to ban conversion therapy relating to sexual orientation, according to Stonewall.

Many countries have followed suit by imposing a full or partial ban since, including Samoa, Canada, Germany, Mexico and parts of Australia.

Dozens of US states have also banned the practice, with the exception of religious organisations.

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