The British government is facing widespread condemnation for its failure to fulfill its long-standing commitment to outlaw so-called conversion therapy, a move described as a “moral failure” and an “act of frightful negligence.”
During the opening of parliament on Tuesday, King Charles outlined the government’s legislative agenda for the upcoming year. Noticeably absent from this agenda was any mention of a bill aimed at banning LGBTQ+ conversion therapy.
The government has been promising since 2018 to pass legislation to outlaw the discredited and dangerous practice of trying to change an LGBTQ+ person’s sexuality or gender identity.
Former Prime Ministers Theresa May and Boris Johnson had publicly supported these plans, and in 2021, a conversion therapy ban was even announced during Queen Elizabeth’s speech at the opening of parliament.
A missed opportunity to protect LGBTQ+ people
Leading British LGBTQ+ rights group Stonewall described the government’s failure to deliver a ban on conversion practices after five years of promises as “an act of frightful negligence.”
Cat Dixon, Stonewall Chair, labeled this inaction as a missed opportunity “to protect LGBTQ+ people from the abuse and torture that has afflicted generations of LGBTQ+ people in the UK and which continues to this day.”
Banning conversion therapy, a practice linked to depression and higher suicide rates, enjoys widespread support from the medical community, faith leaders (including the Church of England), and the British public, according to polls.
Dixon raised questions about the trustworthiness of promises from recent Prime Ministers and the institutions meant to protect vulnerable individuals from harm. She expressed no surprise that the UK had plummeted from the top spot to number 17 in the ILGA Europe rankings for LGBTQ+ rights in just a few years.
A rollback on rights and protections
The British Psychological Society (BPS) also expressed its disappointment regarding the absence of a bill addressing conversion therapy in the King’s Speech.
“We regret that the government did not take this opportunity to address the issue and protect individuals of all genders and sexual orientations from unethical and potentially harmful practices,” commented Dr Adam Jowett, Chair of the BPS’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Board.
Chair of the Coalition to Ban Conversion Therapy, Jayne Ozanne, took to Twitter to voice her anger. “Today confirms my worst fears for [the] LGBT+ community – we are now witnessing the serious rollback on rights and protections that many have feared… To break your flagship promise to a community that has seen a significant rise in hate crime is a total moral failure.”
She added that Prime Minister “Rishi Sunak’s failure to act will be remembered for years to come, it will take generations for LGBT+ people to trust his party again.”
Growing list of countries have banned conversion therapy
Conversion therapy is banned, primarily for minors, in several countries, including Albania, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Cyprus, Greece, France, Germany, Iceland, Malta, New Zealand, and parts of Spain and the US.
The practice is rooted in the false belief that homosexuality or being transgender is immoral, an illness, or a deviation, and it can involve methods ranging from prayer and exorcism to counseling, psychotherapy, hypnosis, and even the use of electric shocks.
A 2020 report by then-UN Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, Victor Madrigal-Borloz, called on states to ban conversion therapy.