Government moves forward with ‘conversion therapy’ ban

12 May 2021

Following the Queen’s Speech on Tuesday 11 May, the Government has confirmed its plan to outlaw so-called ‘conversion therapy’.

Funding for ‘victims of conversion therapy’

The government has announced plans to move forward with legislation to criminalise so-called ‘conversion therapy’, which it claims will “[protect] people from the coercive and abhorrent practice.”

New funding has also been announced to “increase the support available for victims of conversion therapy.”

Minister for Women and Equalities, Liz Truss, commented: “As a global leader on LGBT rights, this government has always been committed to stamping out the practice of conversion therapy.”

Campaigning health groups ‘define conversion therapy’

The government first announced plans to ban so-called ‘conversion therapy’ in 2018, under then Prime Minister Theresa May, after campaign groups like Stonewall made this their top priority.

Although the government calls the so-called practice ‘abhorrent’, there is still no clarity over what is really meant by the term ‘conversion therapy’. The Memorandum of Understanding on Conversion Therapy in the UK was signed by a number of health practitioners and campaign groups in 2017 and defines ‘conversion therapy’ as:

an umbrella term for a therapeutic approach, or any model or individual viewpoint that demonstrates an assumption that any sexual orientation or gender identity is inherently preferable to any other, and which attempts to bring about a change of sexual orientation or gender identity, or seeks to suppress an individual’s expression of sexual orientation or gender identity on that basis.”

The memorandum was (and still is) supported by LGBT campaign group Stonewall.

As the definition currently stands, it also risks banning any pastoral support a church might give someone struggling with sexual desires and identity, as well as prayer. It would also outlaw counselling and talking therapies offered by groups such as Core Issues Trust, which supports those who voluntarily seek help for unwanted sexual attractions and desires.

Transgender included?

It is still unclear whether the ban will include so-called therapies to help those struggling with their sex and gender. Usually, ‘conversion therapy’ is used as a derogatory term to refer to counselling practices that help people move away from unwanted sexual desires and attractions. However, the government now appears to using it as an umbrella term not only for sexuality, but also gender as well. Yet LGB activists have previously split from transgender activists for conflating the two issues, so how the government plans to solve this is still unknown.

Government threatened with judicial review

Recently, several churches and Christian organisations have written to the government warning of the dangers of banning so-called ‘conversion therapy’. Prime Minister Boris Johnson replied to the Evangelical Alliance attempting to assure church leaders that people with unwanted same sex attraction will still be able to “receive appropriate pastoral support (including prayer)” from churches if measures to ban ‘conversion therapy’ are introduced. However, campaigners have repeatedly made it clear that they would want to see prayer outlawed.

The Christian Institute has since threatened the government with legal action if a ban goes ahead and criminalises the wrong kind of prayer.” But once again, campaigners announced that they would also “launch legal proceedings against the government if they *fail to include* religious practices, including prayer, in a ban on conversion therapy.”

It is clear that LGBT campaigners will not stop until religious practices are criminalised.

Public consultation

The government has also announced a period of public consultation before a ban is put in place. However, this will not be asking the public whether they want a ban. Rather, it will consult on how best to implement a ban.

The government website confirms that:

“As soon as parliamentary time allows, and following a consultation, the ban will be introduced in parliamentary legislation. The accompanying consultation will seek further views from the public and key stakeholders to ensure that the ban can address the practice while protecting the medical profession; defending freedom of speech; and upholding religious freedom.”

LGBT activists claim that the government has been consulting on banning ‘conversion therapy’ for years, but this is not true. The government did set up an LGBT panel as part of its 2018 LGBT Action Plan, however this was in essence a group of LGBT activists and partial campaigners meant to advise ministers “on issues and policies concerning lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.” This is privileged access to radical campaigners, not a public consultation.

‘Encouraging people to make accusations’

Andrea Williams, chief executive of Christian Concern, commented on the news: “Plans to set up a fund for ‘victims of conversion therapy’ will only encourage people to make accusations. Anything that could be deemed ‘conversion therapy’ will be reported in the hope of obtaining compensation. We will become a snitcher society.

“Some people feel regret or dissatisfaction about every kind of counselling or therapy. This is not to be equated with actual harm, which is not demonstrated by scientific studies, nor even claimed in the Memorandum of Understanding.

“The government is hereby promising to reward people who report on private conversations or prayer. This is the way totalitarian governments behave.”

Read her full comment.

To find out more about so-called ‘conversion therapy’ and the harm a ban would do, read our ‘Conversion therapy’ FAQ.

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