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

24 June 2021

For two weeks during Pride month, Kingsley Napley are publishing a series of blogs to celebrate Pride and highlight LGBTQ+ issues from home and abroad.

 

Following on from my colleague Sameena Munir’s blog ‘’pray the gay away: cull conversion therapy worldwide’’, the issue of gay conversion therapy dominates contemporary conversations surrounding LGBT politics and legislation in the UK, but the Government has failed to deliver on its promise to ban it.

Conversion therapy is the widely condemned and often cruel torture that many LGBTQ+ people have been subject to, in an attempt to change their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. ILGA World, an international LGBT organisation, has reported that throughout the last century, medical practitioners worldwide have continued to impose ‘’brutal and inhumane techniques’’, such as medical experimentation, castration, chemical and electroshock treatments and even corrective rape, to name just a few, as a means to ‘cure’ homosexuality. This manner of experimentation and abuse has been protected under the legitimising cloak of medicine, psychology and science, and further justified on the grounds of religion, culture, and even compassion.

The damaging and destructive effects of these experiments are hardly surprising - research has found that young LGBT people victim to conversion therapy are more likely to develop mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, self-harm, and shockingly, are eight times more likely to attempt suicide, than those who are accepted for their sexuality and gender identity.

Current Political Situation:

In 2018, Theresa May’s government pledged to end archaic and abusive therapeutic practices in the UK, yet nothing has changed three years on. The current Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has reiterated his predecessor’s concerns that the practice is ‘’abhorrent’’, but has failed to offer any further legislative proposals or public recognition of the issues LGBT people are facing on account of this method of treatment, thereby creating a ‘hostile environment’ for the community. Three key figures on the Government’s LGBT advisory panel, including Jayne Ozanne, quit earlier this year ‘’due to the Government's persistent and worsening hostility towards our community’’.

In March of this year, representatives from eight political parties wrote to the Equalities Minister demanding a ban on conversion therapy, in the biggest display of unity on a LGBT+ issue in Parliament’s history. However, the Minister for Equalities Kemi Badenoch’s response has been slammed as “disappointingly weak, vague and unempathetic", as she actively avoided using the word ‘ban’ in her statements, preferring the ambiguity offered by ‘end’. This has engineered much criticism from the LGBT community, as it appears that the Government cannot even bring itself to say ‘ban conversion therapy’, let alone develop the legislative infrastructure necessary to implement it.

On a brighter note, Northern Ireland has become the first UK nation to vote in favour of banning this injurious practice, which Stonewall has considered to be ‘’a powerful move forward for a full legal ban on conversion therapy’’. Despite the practice receiving cross-party recognition as ‘’humiliating and harmful’’, the DUP, the largest party in Stormont, has pledged to veto the ban unless there are ‘robust protections for churches’.  Some may say that the DUP adopting a socially regressive and oppositional stance against positive social change comes as no surprise. However, it does emerge as a source of concern in cementing the perception that the UK as a whole is ‘’dragging its feet in the water’’ about the ban on conversion therapy, particularly if it is in defence of a steadily declining church in an increasingly tolerant society. 

Global Context of Conversion Therapy:

That said, there are grounds for much optimism and celebration. Bans on conversion therapy are increasingly recognised in laws across the world, with several countries implementing direct legislation, be it on national or regional levels, curbing the practice. National laws prohibiting conversion therapy are recognised in Brazil, Ecuador, Germany and Malta, with regional bans in the US, Canada, Australia and Spain.

There are also five countries – Argentina, Uruguay, Samoa, Fiji and Nauru – which have indirect bans.

The UK already has a fairly robust legislative infrastructure to protect LGBT people from violence and discrimination, and in many respects is an international leader of LGBT equality. The hope exists that this Pride month, the UK Government will be inspired to take more steps in  fulfilling its promise to protect and embrace this vibrant, loving and dynamic community, by providing the legislative safeguards so desperately needed to ban conversion therapy and work towards complete acceptance.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR 

Úna Campbell is a legal apprentice in the Real Estate and Construction team at Kingsley Napley.
 
Úna was the inaugural winner of The Legal Apprentice in 2019, a competition run by Kingsley Napley in association with The Times in which 902 teams from 308 schools and colleges across the UK competed against each other through a series of heats testing pupils’ drafting, negotiation and interpersonal skills.

 

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