Conversion therapy: why won’t the government ban it?

By Olivia Kemp

On 29th October 2021, the government published detailed proposals, in the form of a consultation document, to ‘ban’ conversion therapy in the UK. This consultation included proposals to end the ‘coercive and abhorrent’ conversion practices that seek to change sexual orientation or gender identity; it is open for six weeks and will conclude on 10th December 2021.

The Ministerial Foreword to the document states that ‘the United Kingdom is a global leader on LGBT rights and is committed to banning the coercive and abhorrent practice of conversion therapy’. The Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss MP, further noted that the aim is for ‘every individual to have the freedom to be themselves’ and that ‘proposals have been developed with the protection of LGBT people in mind’. On the surface, such statements are encouraging. Yet it seems that the document is a mere performative action in order to appear more progressive. 

For many, refusing conversion therapy would lead to losing family, friends, faith, communities, and careers

This is due to the fact that ‘consenting adults’ will still be able to seek out and receive conversion therapy. Affirming that they ‘do not intend to ban adults from seeking such counselling freely’, the Government Equalities Office will fundamentally not allow for conversion therapy to be completely banned in the UK, due to ‘democratic reasons’. The ideals upheld by democracy, then, almost paradoxically appear to be preventing the total eradication of this degrading practice.

This ‘loophole’ has ignited debate over the definition of providing ‘consent’. One remains unconvinced that anyone is able to consent to these abhorrent practices. For many, refusing conversion therapy would lead to losing family, friends, faith, communities, and careers. Indeed, conversion therapy may be something that individuals willingly seek, but this itself must be questioned. Proposals that allow for people to ‘consent’ to something that cannot be consented to, should not be supported; adults should not be able to consent to be harmed in any mental or physical capacity. Other harmful acts such as female genital mutilation have been outlawed without such a loophole clause; this leads one to question the true intentions of the consultation document proposals. All coercive attempts to change sexuality or gender identity must ultimately cease; the government must ensure that victims and survivors get the protection they deserve.

The consultation document also makes little reference to the religious practices which inflict harm through the use of conversion therapy. Whilst religious liberty is considered by many people and most nations to be a fundamental human right, it should not be used as a guise. The widespread torture and ill-treatment of LGBTQ+ people by certain religious practices needs to be addressed; the only way to do this is to completely outlaw conversion therapy. 

The disturbing vision of abuse should rouse everyone to action

I reached out to Durham University alumni, Augustine Tanner-Ihm, who has noted that his experience of conversion therapy was dangerous and still ‘causes some issues today’. As an intern at a charismatic free church in Liverpool, he was required to attend a Friday night community called ‘L.I.F.E ministry’. This ministry was a form of conversion therapy; they tried to ‘change’ him, and turn his desires heterosexual. Augustine notes that he ‘didn’t feel safe’ and ‘didn’t know what to do’. They were sponsoring his visa; this was the only means by which he would be able to stay in the UK. Having experienced depression and ‘thoughts of death’ as a result of his experience, he ultimately worries that the proposed loophole in the law will ‘continue to harm queer people in the UK’.

No one should feel threatened or coerced into conversion therapy, nor experience abuse and scrutiny as a result of rejecting such practices. The aforementioned proposals set out by the government must be questioned; the loophole clause with regard to ‘consenting adults’ must be removed.

This disturbing vision of abuse should rouse everyone to action. As a nation we must engage with these facts and resist these so-called ‘robust proposals’. The loophole in the document shows ignorance; the proposed notion of ‘consent’ must be questioned. Such barbaric practices which deny human dignity and demean victims must be fully outlawed with no scope for exemptions. Love is not a disease; it does not need treating.

Image: Oded Balilty/Associated Press

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