Boris Johnson has promised to abolish gay ‘conversion therapy’.
The practice – which has been discredited by the NHS and the World Psychiatric Association – refers to any attempt at changing a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity and often involves techniques like electroshock therapy or prayer.
It’s been two years since the UK’s then-prime minster Theresa May said it was a priority to “end the practice of conversion therapy” as part of a 75-point plan to improve the lives of LGBTQ+ people across the country.
“No one should ever have to hide who they are or who they love. [The plan will] set out concrete steps to deliver real and lasting change across society,” May said at the time.
Speaking at a school visit in Kent on Monday (20 July), Johnson described gay ‘conversion therapy’ as “absolutely abhorrent” and said it has “no place in a civilised society, and has no place in this country.”
“What we are going to do is a study right now on, you know, where is this actually happening, how prevalent is it, and we will then bring forward plans to ban it,” he added.
In a statement, The Ban Conversion Therapy campaign said they were “delighted that Boris Johnson has listened to our calls for a ban on conversion therapy” and that “LGBTQ+ people have been tortured for long enough.”
Gendered Intelligence, a charity devoted to improving the lives of trans people, said: “Whilst we hope the prime minister used ‘gay conversion therapy’ for brevity, we must ensure the ban on conversion therapy covers all LGBT people, including trans people.
“We have to make sure we don’t allow trans conversion therapy through the backdoor.”
An open letter to Johnson and Downing Street calling for a full ban on gay ‘conversion therapy’ for all LGBTQ+ people in the UK has also attracted the support of numerous celebrities.
The letter, backed by Elton John, Stephen Fry, Dua Lipa, Little Mix’s Jade Thirlwall, Stonewall, Mermaids, The Ozanne Foundation, Amnesty UK, Gendered Intelligence, All-Out and many others was sent to Downing Street and Equalities Minister, Liz Truss, on 10 July.
Other signatures include Olly Alexander from Years & Years, trans activist Munroe Bergdorf, screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, actor Alan Cumming, writer Russell T. Davies, comedian Mae Martin, Liberal Democrat leadership contender Layla Moran, co-founder of UK Black Pride Phyll Opoku-Gyimah and singers Rina Sawayama and Charli XCX.
Johnson also reiterated that the government will publish their response to a public consultation on the Gender Recognition Act over the summer.
On 14 June, The Sunday Times reported plans from the government to scrap proposed self-identification laws for trans and non-binary people, despite its own consultation on the matter finding overwhelming public support for allowing self-ID.
The paper said the government’s planned legislation on this is “basically ready” and could be voted on by MPs in July.
Under the leaked plans, proposals for self-identification will be scrapped, meaning the lengthy process for a gender recognition certificate will remain; there will be a “crackdown” on so-called “quack” doctors; safeguards will be put in place for “safe spaces” for women; a North Carolina-style bathroom bill will be brought in; and there will be a ban on gay ‘conversion therapy.’
The news prompted fierce backlash from social media and LGBTQ+ activists.
Nancy Kelly, the Chief Executive at Stonewall, said the plans are “extremely disappointing if accurate” and would’ve made the lives of trans people much easier, “as we know from the changes already made in Ireland five years ago.”
“The majority of the public responses to the consultation on reforming the Gender Recognition Act supported these changes. This is another blow to our community during a difficult time,” she said in a statement.
“Across issues like access to healthcare, fair treatment in the justice system and the ability to have their voices and stories heard in public life, trans people experience profound inequalities.
“We will carry on, working with trans led and trans-inclusive organisations, to fight for trans people to be able to live their lives with dignity and respect, and for acceptance without exception for us all.”
The LGBT Foundation tweeted: “This is deeply disappointing. The current process for changing the legal gender on a person’s birth certificate is expensive, intrusive and dehumanising. It needs urgent reform, not to be made even harder.”