UK Government’s Pledge to Ban Conversion Therapy Under Scrutiny as Deadline Passes

Promised Ban on Controversial Practice in Jeopardy as Time Runs Out.

Campaigners march with a banner reading 'ban conversion therapy for all' (Photograph: Guy Bell/Rex/Shutterstock)
Campaigners march with a banner reading ‘ban conversion therapy for all’ (Photograph: Guy Bell/Rex/Shutterstock)

Campaigners for LGBTQ+ rights have expressed their frustration and disappointment as the UK government appears likely to miss its deadline to ban conversion therapy, a controversial practice aimed at changing an individual’s sexual orientation. The deadline for publishing draft legislation and including a bill in the king’s speech in November has elapsed, raising concerns among activists.

The promise to ban conversion therapy was initially made by former Prime Minister Theresa May five years ago, who committed to ending practices that sought to suppress or “cure” a person’s sexual orientation. This pledge was reiterated by Prime Minister Boris Johnson during the 2019 general election campaign.

Earlier this year, Penny Mordaunt, the leader of the Commons, assured campaigners that draft legislation would be published before the end of the parliamentary session. However, this week, she declined to confirm whether the commitment would be fulfilled before the current session concludes on Tuesday.

Wera Hobhouse, the Liberal Democrat MP for Bath, emphasized that time was running out to outlaw this “appalling and most cruel practice.” Caroline Nokes, chair of the Commons’ women and equalities committee, echoed these sentiments, calling for urgent government action.

Jayne Ozanne, a prominent campaigner for a ban and a survivor of conversion practices, expressed her frustration, stating, “I’m extremely angry that the government has continued to promise action, but has consistently delivered only obfuscation and delay.”

Ozanne added, “While the prime minister has been on his summer break, I fear that many young LGBT+ people will have been sent to summer camps where they will have been subjected to a range of conversion practices, particularly in religious settings. It would seem that this government has no intention of protecting them and cannot be trusted to deliver on their promises. To be aware of harm, to have the power to protect and to choose to do nothing is a total moral failing.”

Government research reveals that 7% of LGBTQ+ individuals have experienced some form of conversion practice. Campaigners argue that these practices cause significant psychological harm and can lead to self-harm or suicide.

In 2021, a forum chaired by Helena Kennedy KC, comprising leading human rights lawyers and experts, declared that conversion practices were degrading and harmful and should not be tolerated in a civilized society. The forum asserted that all practices, including prayer, aimed at suppressing or changing sexual orientation or gender identity should be criminalized.

The Church of England took a stance against conversion practices in 2017, stating that they had “no place in the modern world.” Despite this, some churches within the Church of England and other denominations have encouraged LGBTQ+ members to participate in prayer sessions and other activities aimed at changing their sexual orientation.

Both the Royal College of Psychiatrists and the Royal College of General Practitioners have called for a ban on conversion practices. Additionally, a 2021 YouGov survey indicated that almost two-thirds of British adults believe conversion practices should be banned.

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Opponents of a ban have raised concerns that it could result in legal action against parents, teachers, or doctors for discussing gender transition with a child.

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