The government is said to have a draft bill for its long-awaited ban on so-called ‘conversion therapy’ ready for sign-off from the Prime Minister, though it includes a ‘consent clause’ for adults who wish to ‘volunteer’ for the harmful practice.

Rishi Sunak is currently considering the wording of the bill before giving the Equalities Office the green light to move forward with it, ITV News reported.

‘Conversion therapy’ is typically defined as any attempt at changing or suppressing a person’s sexuality or gender identity and often involves techniques such as intensive prayer and, in some cases, electroshock therapy.

It has been widely condemned by health experts and bodies all over the world, including the National Health Service and the World Health Organisation, with some comparing it to torture.

“The proposed legislation will have a loophole so large to render it meaningless”

A commitment to banning it was first made by Theresa May’s administration in 2018, with the exact form the legislation will take being the subject of intense debate in the UK since then.

Boris Johnson’s government made a number of backtracks to these promises, resulting in fear from the LGBTQ+ community that the legislation would not include protections for all.

The draft bill is, however, said to cover attempts to change both someone’s sexuality and gender identity – though campaigners remain concerned that the ‘consent’ loophole makes the legislation redundant.

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“If these reports are true it will mean that all our work over the past five years has been utterly in vain, as the proposed legislation will have a loophole so large to render it meaningless,” Jayne Ozanne, Chair of the Ban Conversion Therapy Coalition, told GAY TIMES shortly after the news broke.

“The government has constantly prioritised listening to the voices of perpetrators rather than those of victims. I myself willingly consented to nearly 20 years of ‘conversion therapy’ and it nearly killed me. I am one of the fortunate ones who survived, others tragically have not.

“What is so appalling is that this government remains deaf to our voices, based on our lived experience, as well as those of some of our country’s leading international human rights lawyers who have warned against allowing a consent loophole. Mark my words, this will continue to cost many lives.”

“People cannot consent to their own abuse”

The proposed legislation would outlaw ‘conversion therapy’ being forced upon someone, though ‘volunteering’ for it will still be possible – something activists say is not good enough as someone could ‘consent’ due to pressures from family, society or other external factors.

Nadia Whittome, Labour MP for Nottingham East, told GAY TIMES: “People cannot consent to their own abuse, which is what ‘conversion therapy’ amounts to.

“I urge the government to follow the advice of LGBTQ+ organisations and mental health experts, who are calling for conversion practices to be banned without caveats.”

Leni Morris, CEO of Galop, explained that the LGBTQ+ anti-abuse charity has worked extensively with ‘conversion therapy’ victims. 

“Victims of conversion practices are forced to choose between two parts of themselves – their family or culture or faith and their LGBT+ identity,” she told GAY TIMES. “As with all kinds of abuse, the perpetrators of conversion practices have power over a victim – and so a victim cannot freely consent.

“Some survivors who contact us have been through conversion practices for decades – and many victims believe they consented to what happened to them at the time. They believe that the abuse they experienced was their fault. To have legislation confirm that to a victim would be cruel, and not something we would do to victims of any other kind of abuse.”

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The Prime Minister will be the one to decide the final wording and could sign the bill off as early as next week, though the exact timing of this remains unclear.

It will then be scrutinised by a special committee of MPs who have the ability to amend it further being it goes to Parliament, meaning the ban’s implementation is not likely to happen just yet.

A spokesperson for the Equalities Office told GAY TIMES that the department does not comment on leaks, but noted that a draft bill will soon be published ahead of being “scrutinised by a Joint Committee of both Houses in this parliamentary session.”