The UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission is under fire for urging the government to delay banning transgender conversion therapy.
The UK government has long promised to pass legislation to outlaw so-called conversion therapy; the discredited and dangerous practice of trying to change an LGBTQ+ person’s sexuality or gender identity.
As part of this process, the Minister for Women and Equalities, Liz Truss, in October 2021 announced a six-week “consultation” process with interested and affected parties.
On Wednesday, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) published its controversial views and recommendations to the government on a possible conversion therapy ban.
While the commission said it supports legislating against conversion therapy for minors related to a person’s sexual orientation, it believes that there is not enough research and consensus on matters affecting transgender people.
“We recommend that legislation should initially focus on banning conversion therapy attempting to change a person’s sexual orientation, where the evidence and impacts are clearer,” said the EHRC in its report.
It insisted, however, that “legislation to ban conversion therapy attempting to change a person to or from being transgender” should only follow “once more detailed and evidence-based proposals are available which can be properly scrutinised.”
The EHRC argues that there is a “documented lack of evidence about conversion therapy in relation to being transgender” and expressed concerns that a ban could prohibit clinicians and therapists “from providing appropriate care and support for individuals with gender dysphoria.”
Also on Wednesday, the EHRC wrote to Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Housing and Local Government, Shona Robison, calling for caution in making reforms to Scotland’s Gender Recognition Act that would make it easier for transgender people to amend the sex on their birth certificate.
The commission warned that the reforms could affect “the collection and use of data, participation and drug testing in competitive sport, measures to address barriers facing women, and practices within the criminal justice system…”
LGBTQ+ rights organisation Stonewall was among several groups to lash out at the EHRC, describing its statements as “an attack on trans equality [that] undermine EHRC’s core purpose of regulating, promoting and upholding human rights.”
It said that in these statements the EHRC “is calling for further delays to legislation that our communities have been waiting on for many years.”
Stonewall asserted that these views “disregard findings from the UK Government’s own research and the largest ever survey of LGBTQ+ people in the UK, as well as the expert opinion of the UN Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity on conversion therapy and gender recognition.”
The organisation said it is “deeply troubled by the approach that the EHRC is taking to trans people’s human rights” and that “their approach appears to focus on pleasing a noisy minority of anti-trans activists, rather than promoting human rights for all LGBTQ+ people.”
In its own statement, the LGBT Foundation announced that it “is severing all ties” with the EHRC in response to the commission’s position on trans rights.
“EHRC has ignored the experiences of trans and non-binary individuals who have undergone unnecessary trauma. They suggest that LGBTQ+ lives are up for debate and medical scrutiny. They disregard expert opinion and lived experience – a humiliating and dehumanising action against our community with real-world consequences,” said the foundation.
“EHRC should exist to regulate, promote, and uphold human rights, and we believe it is no longer fit for purpose. Our position from today is clear: EHRC can no longer call itself a true human rights organisation,” it added.
The group Trans Actual expressed its “disappointment at the EHRC’s failure, once again, to understand that they need to protect the rights of trans people as well as everyone else” and said it is alarming that it is so “out of line with established, mainstream international views on human rights…”
Conversion therapy has been discredited by mental health and human rights groups, including the World Psychiatric Association, as ineffective and harmful. It is linked to depression, anxiety, substance abuse, homelessness and suicide.
Conversion therapy is banned in a handful of countries and regions, including Brazil, Canada, France, Germany and Malta, but is not expressly outlawed in South Africa. In July 2021, the DA’s Shadow Minister of Health, Siviwe Gwarube, said she planned to submit a Private Members Bill to Parliament to prohibit conversion therapy for minors in South Africa.