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Conversion therapy: Torture in 2022

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Sue Pascoe

Sue Pascoe stood for election for Yorkshire and the Humber in the 2019 European Election, chairs the Conservative Women’s Organisation for North and East Yorkshire, and she is also on the Executive for the Conservative Disability Group.

Respect is a cornerstone of our democracy. Respect for our families and each other in our communities. Respect for the rule of law. Respect for the society and organisations we live, work and interact with on a daily basis – from schools to hospitals, to workplace to community centres all the way to the Houses of Parliament. Showing respect and dare I say a little kindness, is what makes the world go round and makes the difference between order and chaos, between a society with values and one which is uncaring and selfish.

Britain has always been a land of values and where most people treat others with respect. A land where we value kindness, community spirit and pulling together in tough times. This has been exemplified recently during Covid.

So, what is happening when some people claim one thing, but the result is sanctioning the continuation of torture of vulnerable adults and children. In my book that’s hugely disrespectful but that’s exactly where transgender people find themselves today.

“Torture is taking place of trans adults and children, and it needs to be banned.”

Sue Pascoe, former outsourcing and change management partner at PWC

After promising to ban the abhorrent practice of conversion therapy, which seeks to cure, change, or suppress a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, the Government was lobbied to hold back on the legislative ban. Two reasons were given, supposedly existing legislation already covered most situations and non-legislative measures could be put in place and second because therapists might be criminalised for supporting individuals with ‘exploratory’ therapy.

Both spurious reasons given that conversion practices are happening up and down our country despite these ‘existing legislations’ and despite all the UK’s major psychological and psychiatric societies and the NHS having had a memorandum of understanding against conversion therapy in place since 2015. Evidence is clear that harmful conversion practices are happening now in therapeutic, religious and domestic settings.

Supporting any adult or child through an open dialogue about their sexuality or gender identity through therapeutic clinical relationships is of course acceptable. What’s not is a predetermined coercive outcome designed by a therapist or religious practitioner to cure, change, or suppress a person’s sexuality or gender identity. Surely, it’s not hard for any professional therapist, or legislator to understand the difference? The professional bodies had no problem defining things in 2015 and other countries have not had problems with their legislation. So maybe wolf is being cried just a bit too much!

A leak by ITV News indicated that after four years of waiting and after seeing country after country put clear bans in place, no legislative ban was going to happen in the UK. This prompted an immediate backlash and a partial U-turn occurred. At this time, the practice of torture for ‘gay’ people is to get a legislative ban, but the practice of torture on transgender people is to be sanctioned.

How can torture in 2022 be sanctioned of some of the most vulnerable people in our country when the first job of government is to keep its citizens safe?

The 2018 National LGBT Survey of over 108,000 people reported that “Transgender respondents were more likely to have reported having undergone or been offered conversion therapy (13%) than cisgender respondents (7%).” The recent Conversion Therapy survey conducted by Galop reported that “We spoke to over 5,000 LGBT+ people, and 5% had experienced so-called ‘conversion therapy’ from family members. This doubled for trans and non-binary people (11%).” Given that both surveys show that trans people are disproportionately more likely to have suffered or been offered conversion therapy than the rest of the LGB+ community, why would they get no protection is frankly just bizarre, disrespectful and smacks of prejudice.

The UN classifies conversion therapy as torture and requires States including the UK to “Take the necessary legislative, administrative and other measures to guarantee respect for the autonomy and physical and personal integrity of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons and prohibit the practice of so-called “conversion therapy,” and other forced, involuntary, or otherwise coercive or abusive treatments against them”. We are also members of the Council of Europe and they also state their members should ban conversion therapy in Resolution 2395 (2021) which also covers gender identity and a range of other ‘honour’ scenarios.

Why are we ignoring our treaty obligations?

But, this is also personal. I was six when my mother tried to crucify me to prove that God did not believe what I was telling her; that I was a girl and not a boy. I was 15 when my mother and the doctors ignored what I was telling them about my innate feelings and operated on my variation in sex characteristic condition to make me more functionally male. I was 20 when I went to see a therapist asking for help to change my gender and I was given “conversion therapy” and made to be totally ashamed of who I was.

So, I went into the world as best I could, hiding my true self – deep inside suffering life-long pain resulting from these “conversion practices” which took away my joy, my happiness and left me scared.

I’m 61 now and finally after many years I have managed to fully transition to be Sue. I’m at peace with myself having aligned all my sex characteristics as best I possibly can.

My plea to government is to ignore the noise and obfuscation that many are trying to use to cloud the real issue. Torture is taking place of trans adults and children, and it needs to be banned. If we can legislate for coercive control in a domestic setting, surely we can legislate against coercion to cure, change or suppress a person’s gender identity. Please can we put in place the ban as set out by the UN and enacted successfully in other countries. In Canada, for example, the legislation was so uncontentious it passed unanimously through their Parliament.

On the wider question of how to treat trans people, we just wish to be treated the same way as others. Why not consider treating all people with respect and dignity, no matter their background or social status giving each person the equality of opportunity to succeed based on personal freedom and expression – plus enterprise underpinned with compassion, tolerance and fair play.

I think these are sound principles of respect.

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