Banning conversion therapy: how the UK Government proposals fall short and risk criminalising gender identity counselling services

7 January 2022

On 29 October 2021 the Government launched a consultation on restricting conversion therapy. Although the Government proposals are a step in the right direction, it only limits conversion therapy rather than banning it outright.

 

Conversion therapy refers to any form of treatment or psychotherapy that purports to change a person’s sexual orientation or to suppress their gender identity or expression. This is based on the belief that gay, lesbian and bisexual people can and should be changed to heterosexual, and that trans or gender diverse people can and should be changed to cisgender.

Conversion therapy has long been condemned by the NHS, as well as large counselling and psychotherapy bodies in the UK. Despite this, many lesbian, gay, bi and trans people continue to experience these harmful therapies. Stonewall has reported that one in five trans people experienced pressure to use conversion therapies to suppress their gender identity when accessing healthcare services. Conversion therapy is incredibly damaging and can lead to long-lasting psychological and physical damage.

In 2018 the UK Government committed to banning conversion therapy under the LGBT Action Plan. However, three years later and the Government still had not followed through on this commitment to implement legislation banning conversion therapy. Earlier this year we blogged about this.

Government consultation

 

The Government consultation launched at the end of October can be found here. The consultation seeks public input on how the conversion therapy ban should work. After the consultation, the Government will decide whether their proposals should be amended. A bill will be drafted in spring 2022 and the Government is aiming to implement this by May 2022.

The consultation was initially going to be open for six weeks, but was since extended for another eight weeks. This extension came after the government published an easy read version of the consultation (found here) the day before the initial deadline, on 9 December 2021. The government says the extension was agreed to “ensure the widest possible views are taken into account”. Whilst it is welcome that the government has now published an accessible version of the consultation, Stonewall CEO Nancy Kelley criticised the government for not ensuring accessibility from the beginning of the consultation. In addition, groups are concerned that this extension will cause even further delays to this long-awaited ban.

Government proposals

 

The UK Government is proposing to completely ban conversion therapy for individuals in England and Wales under the age of 18, however it allows conversion therapy for anyone over the age of 18 that expressly consents to it. The Government has stated that “consent requirements will be robust and stringent”. Although banning conversion therapy for children is an important step, allowing consenting adults to undergo this dangerous practice is a disappointing loophole that falls short of an outright ban. It is concerning that the Government is suggesting that people over the age of 18 are capable of consenting to these abusive practices, and that in certain situations conversion therapy will be allowed to take place.

The proposals introduce various civil measures as well as a new criminal offence against the use of talking conversion therapy committed against anyone under 18 years old or against anyone aged 18 or over and who has not consented to this or who is unable to consent. Physical acts of violence used as part of conversion therapies are already illegal in the UK. The Government proposals go further in that any act of violence used as part of conversion therapy will be seen as an aggravating factor that may increase the prison sentence a person receives.

The civil measures the Government proposes to introduce include Conversion Therapy Protection Orders which will enable officials to intervene on behalf of children at risk of conversion therapy. Other civil measures the Government purports to introduce are new support for victims, restricting the promotion of conversion therapy and removing profit streams of these practices.

The proposals say very little about the role of religious practices in relation to conversion therapy. This is both surprising and disappointing considering the Government’s 2018 National LGBT survey found that 51% of respondents who had experienced conversion therapy said they experienced this by religious or faith groups.

As well as banning conversion therapies that seek to change a person’s sexual orientation, the proposals also ban intention to change a person to or from being trans where that person is under 18 or over 18 and without their consent. Certain media outlets have suggested that organisations involved in advising and counselling trans children could face criminal sanctions, and that adults would be required to consent in order to use gender identity counselling services. The Government has stated that medical professionals, such as psychiatrists and doctors, will not be caught by these sanctions.

In its proposals, the Government states that “those who are under 18 are more at risk of being harmed by such counselling and as such, our proposals will protect young people regardless of whether they have freely entered such counselling. Providing such counselling to under 18s or vulnerable adults will be an offence.”

The ability to seek counselling is vital for LGBT children and adults and this counselling does not stop at medical professionals. There are a number of charities that do incredibly important work and it is vital that the government bill includes explicit protections for trans people in particular, so that trans counselling services and charities are protected from criminal sanctions.

Mermaids, a British charity that supports gender variant and trans youth, has stated that certain media outlets are “skewing the proposals” and asks people to look at the substance of the Government proposals which they state make “clear that trans healthcare is not conversion therapy, and that trans people are included in the proposed protections”.

The public consultation will be ending on 4 February 2022. Anyone seeking to respond to the public consultation should do so here.

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Banning conversion therapy: how the UK Government proposals fall short and risk criminalising gender identity counselling services

Read the blog

Drag queens and activism: a story of political realness

Read the blog

Coming out? How to support your friends and family members when they come out to you.

Read the blog

When the arch of the rainbow actually casts a shadow on you.

Read the blog

Three years on, the UK Government is still ‘’dragging its feet’’ about banning gay conversion therapy.

Read the blog

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Read the blog

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