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In 2018, the government vowed to eradicate so-called ‘conversion therapy’ for the first time. Six years later, LGBTQIA+ people are still waiting for a ban to actually materialise. “I believe that this government has lost the trust, respect and frankly, votes of the vast majority of the LGBT community as a result,” says Jayne Ozanne, a campaigner and ‘conversion therapy’ survivor who has been a longtime proponent of a ban. “It will take a generation, if not longer, for them to rebuild trust because no one believes they’ve got their best interests at heart.”

‘Conversion therapies’ – also known as conversion practices – are typically defined as any attempt at changing or suppressing a person’s sexuality or gender identity in an attempt to ‘cure’ them. They tend to involve techniques such as intensive prayer or pseudo-scientific counselling sessions, while more extreme cases can see victims undergo forms of electroshock ‘therapy’ and ‘corrective’ rape. Nearly one in five LGBTQIA+ people in the UK have been subjected to a form of the harmful practice, according to research commissioned by anti-abuse charity Galop, with more than half of survivors surveyed reporting that they were subjected to it by a family member. 

Daniel Harding, journalist and author of Gay Man Talking, was subjected to ‘conversion therapy’ as part of an undercover investigation he did for The Mirror during the COVID-19 pandemic. He tells GAY TIMES that what he experienced mirrored traditional therapy, though it was clear there was an “anti-gay” agenda being pushed in a bid to ‘cure’ him of his sexuality. “What happens during this style of ‘therapy’ is they really grind you down, they grind you into that moment where for me, when I was younger, I really didn’t like my sexuality and the reality of being gay. I was so vulnerable. I went back to that dark time where I wasn’t comfortable and channelled that…and they preyed on it.”

This type of ‘conversion therapy’ continues to be legal in the UK. Harding believes the government’s lack of urgency in implementing a ban is “failing” the LGBTQIA+ community. “Every time that this is drawn out, pushed back, not accepted, not taken seriously, is another life lost or another person that’s going to go through something that they shouldn’t be going through,” he continues.

Amy Roch, Interim CEO of Galop, explains that the charity hears from survivors of ‘conversion therapy’ via its National Conversion Therapy Hotline and advocacy services every day. Victims have contacted her team with cases of “serious emotional and psychological abuse, physical and sexual assault, forced marriage and even abduction.” Roch states that a failure to implement legislation putting an end to it “means there is little support or protection for anyone at risk of, or currently experiencing, this form of abuse. Victims and survivors who are dependent on their perpetrators for housing or finances, many of whom are young LGBT+ people, are being forced into homelessness from the absence of legislation that protects them…Every day that goes by without a ban leaves more LGBT+ people at risk of abuse.”

Two years ago, survivors were given a false glimmer of hope that a ban may actually materialise when talks of legislation being implemented sparked up once more. These hopes were quickly thwarted, however, when the government U-turned on what was originally promised and backed away from a trans-inclusive ban. Thousands protested the decision outside the gates of Downing Street, with a petition urging the government to reconsider being signed more than 140,000 times. Boris Johnson’s administration ultimately vowed to outlaw the “abhorrent” practices aimed at gay people, but said “different considerations” were needed for trans ‘conversion therapy’ despite trans and non-binary people being significantly more likely to be subjected to such practices.

“Right now, the state of gender-affirming healthcare in the UK is appalling, with waiting times stretching out for years and the system collapsing after years of under investment and politicisation,” says Jude Guaitamacchi, Founder and Director of Trans+ Solidarity Alliance, a national advocacy network seeking to advance the rights and conditions of the community. “Trans people in the UK are facing nothing less than a state of crisis in terms of our mental health, with no limited access to care and support, rising discrimination and rising hate crime. Banning conversion practices is the tip of the iceberg and it’s shameful that the government has tried to avoid even doing this.”

India Willoughby, a journalist and broadcaster, says being trans in the UK right now is “terrifying” and feels like a “living hell” for many. She believes the current Conservative government has “scorn” for members of the community which the ‘conversion therapy’ ban debate has been “symbolic” of. “Being trans at the moment is so difficult, it’s probably the toughest time in history to be trans, because while in the past we probably weren’t accepted and were subject to scorn, we didn’t have social media and a culture wars government that had put targets on our backs. So I know from people who contact me, who are trans themselves or their families, they’re really frightened now,” she continues. “There’s no evidence whatsoever that ‘conversion therapy’ has ever worked, be it L, G, B, or T. You might get somebody who’s bullied into pretending to be cis or straight for a while, but inevitably you can’t run away from yourself.”

Ozanne believes the discussion surrounding ‘conversion therapy’ has frequently become a “proxy debate for many other debates” which, she says, has been “hijacked by the gender critical movement” who have moved the focus away from the actual issue at hand and instead focused it on their perceived threat of gender identity. “What’s frustrated me is that it’s really muddied and confused people as to what conversion practices actually are. If we can get back to a clear definition, that conversion practices ‘are any practice where the perpetrator has a predetermined purpose of trying to make you into something you’re not’ then that covers all cases of anybody trying to do anything to someone in their care where they have a mindset that says you cannot be gay or you cannot be transgender,” she adds. “If we could stick to that clarity, we’d have got this, I think, banned years ago.”

This was prominent during the second reading of Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle’s Conversion Practices (Prohibition) Bill on 1 March, which eventually became plagued by anti-trans rhetoric unrelated to the real issue at hand. Alicia Kearns, Conservative MP and Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, directly addressed those calling for the ‘LGB’ to be separated from the ‘T’, an argument that has been at the core of the debate surrounding ‘conversion therapy’ in recent years: “By removing the ‘T’, you are suggesting that trans people do not exist. You are suggesting they are lesser than other LGB people and I will not stand for that because it was trans people who stood with gay people at Stonewall, it was trans people who stood alongside for LGB rights. So when you remove the ‘T’, you suggest that they are lesser and, I will happily discuss with you the intricacies of legislation, but when you choose to eradicate, then that is wrong.”

The legislation, which was brought forward in the form of a Private Members’ Bill and faced opposition from the government in the Commons, ultimately failed to advance to the committee stage – bringing to an end another attempt to outlaw ‘conversion therapy’. Now, survivors of the practice will likely have to wait until after the next general election for such a law to be introduced, which Labour has vowed to do

“I am very angry by the total lack of moral backbone shown by the government today who, having been given multiple opportunities by Lloyd Russell-Moyle to make amendments, chose not to do so and opposed the bill,” Ozanne told GAY TIMES after the debate on 1 March. “Lloyd had done what they had not – he presented a bill that had broad consensus across the house. We now know that despite their multiple promises, they have no intention of protecting LGBT people from these abusive practices.”