To discuss the delays on the Government’s promised “conversion therapy“ ban, Policy and Research Analyst for the LGBT+ Commission, Hal Arnold-Forster, sat down with veteran LGBT+ Rights Campaigner, and the Founder and Chair of the Ban Conversion Therapy Coalition, Jayne Ozanne.
In 2018, when Theresa May promised to ban so-called, “conversion therapy” against the LGBT+ community, it signalled a real and concrete commitment to further LGBT+ rights. The flagship priority from the LGBT+ Action Plan, which contained 100 policies covering a range of areas—including healthcare, housing, policing, and education—promised a leap in progress not seen since the equalisation of same-sex marriage.
Four years and five Ministers for Equalities later, however, little progress has been made. The Action Plan was quietly scrapped by the then-Minister for Equalities, Liz Truss, in 2021. Despite appearing in multiple Queen’s Speeches, the promise of a ban on “conversion therapy” has not yet materialised.
Delays, Delays, Delays
On April Fools Day this year, it was leaked that Number 10 intended to drop the ban on “conversion therapy”. But this was no joke. Four years after it was initially promised, it emerged that the Government intended to quietly reverse its position.
However, after significant backlash, both in the media and from backbench Conservative MPs, the Government was forced to do a partial U-turn on its U-turn.
When it did so, the Government stated that it would only be banning “conversion therapy” targeted at changing or suppressing an individual’s sexual orientation, rather than their gender identity.
During the Conservative leadership race, former Minister for Equalities Mike Freer said that Sunak had communicated to him that he was supportive of a fully inclusive ban on “conversion therapy”. With this information, there was some hope that the tides might be changing. However, on 31st October, it was announced that Minister for Equalities Kemi Badenoch would be pausing work to ban “conversion therapy”, asking officials to review the current plans. On the delay, Ozanne was unequivocal:
“The longer we delay a ban, the more lives are impacted. More than that, the perpetrators feel that they can continue to act with impunity. This is the messaging this sends to the victims and to those who continue the violence.”
Beyond the delay, Jayne Ozanne notes that the exclusion of trans people from the ban is a symptom of the wider failure in the Government’s approach to the “conversion therapy” ban—they have not engaged effectively with the LGBT+ community:
“Most international governments have prioritised speaking to the trans community and to trans individuals as the first thing to be done. If you are going to ban something, you need to listen to those who have got first-hand experience.”
In 2015, the UK was ranked as the most LGBT+ friendly country in Europe by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex Association (ILGA World). Since then, it has fallen to 14th in the 2022 rankings.
“I cannot understand what is happening in the United Kingdom. We used to be a beacon of progress, of light and hope. We used to set the agenda and now we are trailing so far behind.”
The reasons stretch far beyond the issue of “conversion therapy”. The Equality and Human Rights Commission has been accused by many of failing to effectively protect the transgender community. There has been widespread hostility to trans people in political and media discourse, as well as the Government failure to bring forward promised reforms to the Gender Recognition Act.
Countries are scored across seven thematic categories: equality and non-discrimination, family, hate crime and hate speech, legal gender recognition, intersex bodily integrity, civil society space and asylum.
The significant drop in ranking placed the UK in the same group as Russia, Romania and Hungary, leaving Ozanne and many others working in the space dismayed:
“A civilised society is measured by the way it treats its most vulnerable and those with the least voice. Our trans community is one of the most misunderstood, marginalised and—we have seen from the hate crime figures—one of the most attacked groups in Britain today.
The Government should be championing them and reaching out to understand them, rather than waging what feels like a war on them.”
Reflecting on the toxic culture wars that plague the debate around basic public services for trans women, Ozanne lamented the misplaced energy that this involves:
“We are not the only country dealing with this, there is so much we can learn from our colleagues overseas. But most importantly, it’s about uniting against the common enemy, which is men who are violent towards women.”
“That is where we should be putting all our energy as women and feminists, and it really saddens me that there is an element of the feminist gender critical movement who are so focused on a vulnerable group of people.”
When asked what the current Government needs to do to begin rebuilding trust with the LGBT+ community, Ozanne was frank in her assessment:
“I don’t know if it can be rebuilt. We are into damage limitation right now.”
There is certainly concern among those who have worked tirelessly to secure and defend LGBT+ rights that Kemi Badenoch is not in their corner as Minister for Equalities. Ozanne herself resigned from the Government’s LGBT Advisory Panel following a speech Badenoch gave on the issue of “conversion therapy”. There was also significant uproar after audio was leaked of Badenoch calling trans women, ‘men’.
In this context, Ozanne called for leadership from the top down:
“What we really need is a statement from the top, from the Prime Minister, that he believes in the rights of all and that, to me, would mean bringing in a full ban on “conversion therapy”, which a very large proportion of western democracies have now done.”
As well as the progress that Ozanne hopes to see on “conversion therapy”, she insisted that, following the regression of LGBT+ rights in recent years, the UK needs to get to grips with even the elementary issues:
“Let’s get the basics right. We need to look at protections in the workplace and at school…There is so much work that needs to be done on how we support the trans community, how we speed up the health pathway.”
Campaigners certainly find themselves in a tricky spot. Those thinking charitably will see a new Prime Minister who has stated (privately at least) his support for an inclusive ban. Those thinking cynically will note that Theresa May, Boris Johnson and Liz Truss all promised a ban, yet here we are.
Indeed, as he pushes through tax rises and spending cuts with an already fractured Parliamentary Conservative Party, Sunak will be wanting to pick his battles and avoid pursuing policy that furthers division.
We can only hope that “conversion therapy” does not face the cut.
Photo Credit for featured image: Markus Bidaux, Attitude Magazine
Curia’s LGBT+ Commission this year is exploring the detail of Government policy and whether it has been implemented. You can find out more about our work by clicking here.
This article first appeared as part of our December Journal. To read the rest of the journal please click here.