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Photography Daniel James, via Unsplash

Why hasn’t the UK banned conversion therapy yet?

Fresh calls to take definitive action have united representatives from across eight political parties, more than 1,000 days after the government originally promised to ban the anti-LGBTQ+ practice

Representatives from eight political parties have urged the UK government to act on its promise to ban conversion therapy. In a joint letter directed to equalities minister Liz Truss, the group said that the UK cannot end conversion therapy without a legislative ban, stating: “The longer we wait, the weaker the words and intentions sound.”

The government recently passed 1,000 days since it first announced that it would ban the pseudoscientific practice, which has been condemned by all major UK health services. Following the disappointing milestone, activist groups, including the LGBTQ+ rights organisation Stonewall, renewed calls for a full legal ban. Three advisors from the government’s LGBTQ+ advisory panel also resigned over concerns that it’s acting too slowly.

Truss subsequently said that a ban would be brought forward “shortly”. This announcement was met with cautious optimism from activists and supporters, while fellow equalities minister Kemi Badenoch’s response while debating the issue last week has been criticised as “disappointingly weak, vague, and unempathetic”. 

Though Badenoch said that conversion therapy had “no place in a civilised society”, she refused to use the word “ban”. Instead, she pledged to “end” the practice and hinted at a possible exemption for religious groups. The new letter says that “this set a very clear tone”.

Led by LGBTQ+ Conservatives, the letter brings together members of the Labour Party, SNP, Plaid Cymru, Green Party, Lib Dems, Alliance Party of Northern Ireland, and SDLP.  “It emphasises the desire across the board to get this abhorrent practice banned not only in name, but in legislation,” LGBTQ+ Conservatives wrote on Twitter.

“We understand that there has been little engagement between ministers and survivors of conversion therapy within this time frame,” the letter goes on, referencing the 1,000 day mark. “It is naive to attempt to form policy without meaningful engagement with those who will continue to suffer abuse if conversion therapy is not banned.”

When the UK government’s conversion therapy ban was promised under Theresa May in 2018, it came in the wake of a national survey of 108,000 members of the LGBTQ+ community. The survey found that two per cent had undergone the practice, while another five had been offered it. Faith organisations were by far the most likely group to have conducted conversion therapy.

Now, faith groups are also leading opposition against the newly-proposed conversion therapy ban, with the Evangelical Alliance – the UK’s largest evangelical body – saying that such a ban could restrict religious freedom and “place church leaders at risk of prosecution”.

In 2020, Boris Johnson renewed vows to prohibit the anti-LGBTQ+ procedure, but only after a “study” into “where this is actually happening” and “how prevalent it is”. 

“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 told Dazed at the time. “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.”