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Photography Karl Bewick, via Unsplash

‘We need action, not empty words’: activists on UK conversion therapy ban

Two years after the government promised to end the practice, Boris Johnson has again vowed to prohibit it – but not until a study has been conducted

It’s been two years since former prime minister Theresa May vowed to ban conversion therapy in the UK, and still nothing has happened. Yesterday (July 20), Boris Johnson echoed May’s words, asserting that the “abhorrent” practice “has no place in this country”. 

However, instead of promising to prohibit the anti-LGBTQ+ service, which claims to be able to change a person’s sexuality, Johnson said the government will conduct a “study” into “where this is actually happening” and “how prevalent it is” before bringing forward plans to ban it.

“Although we’re pleased to hear that the prime minister backs a ban, we will not celebrate until a full ban is enacted,” activist group Ban Conversion Therapy tells Dazed. “Theresa May made the same commitment two years ago, and we are still here calling for ban. We do not need a study. We do not need a public poll. We do not need empty words. We need action. We need a comprehensive ban on this horrific and torturous practice once and for all.”

Justin Beck, a survivor of gay conversion therapy, says the practice “relies on this negative, toxic mentality of eradicating your self-worth and manipulating you against all of your own natural instincts”. 

A 2018 national survey of 108,000 members of the LGBTQ+ community found that two per cent had undergone conversion therapy, while another five per cent had been offered it. Most of them were overwhelmingly conducted by faith organisations. When May made her promise to ban the practice, the government didn’t offer a direct definition of conversion therapy, but said it “can range from pseudo-psychological treatments to surgical interventions and ‘corrective’ rape”.

Discussing Johnson’s plan, Beck asserts: “Announcing another ‘study’ does nothing but provide time for those who carry out conversion therapy to move underground and become more insidious, making any ban increasingly difficult to implement and police. ‘Come underground with us’ was recently posted on the Changed Movement’s Instagram feed, showing how truly manipulative and controlling conversion therapy organisations are. They need to be cut off at the pass. Now!”

“Announcing another ‘study’ does nothing but provide time for those who carry out conversion therapy to move underground and become more insidious, making any ban increasingly difficult to implement and police” – Justin Beck, conversion therapy survivor

Speaking to Dazed, Josh Bradlow, policy manager at Stonewall UK, adds: “Any form of ‘therapy’ that attempts to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity is unethical and wrong. These so-called conversion therapies have been condemned by leading UK health organisations, as they try to shame a person into denying a core part of who they are – which can have a seriously harmful impact on their mental health and wellbeing.” 

He continues: “Being LGBTQ+ is not something that can or should be ‘cured’. If we want all LGBTQ+ people to be safe, we need to eradicate these harmful practices now.”

Earlier this month, Ban Conversion Therapy sent an open letter – signed by Olly AlexanderMunroe BergdorfDua Lipa, and Rina Sawayama – to equalities minister Liz Truss urging for the practice’s outlawing. The letter read: “Any form of counselling or persuading someone to change their sexual orientation or behaviour so as to conform with a heteronormative lifestyle, or their gender identity should be illegal, no matter the reason, religious or otherwise – whatever the person’s age.”

Also revealed in Johnson’s comments was the news that the government’s response to the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) consultation will now be published “over the summer”, despite promises it would arrive this week.

In 2018, over 53,000 people took part in the public consultation on how best to reform the GRA – an Act that was implemented in 2004. In April, Truss was criticised by activist groups after she said she wanted to protect under-18s from “irreversible” decisions about their gender. Speaking to Dazed at the time, Voices4 London organiser Prishita Maheshwari-Aplin said it was “extremely concerning that access to this crucial healthcare is being discussed alongside the Gender Recognition Act”, as “The GRA has no bearing on medical care”.

In a statement addressing the further delay, Stonewall UK said: “It’s very frustrating that trans people face more uncertainty while they wait. But we hope this delay will lead to a better outcome for trans equality.”

Sign the petition urging the government to make conversion therapy illegal in the UK here, and get tips on how to write to Johnson and your local MP about trans equality here.