80 LGBTQ+ activists and opponents of conversion therapy protested outside the Cabinet Office & Government Equalities Office on Wednesday (23 June).
The protest, which was supported by organisations such as the Peter Tatchell Foundation, Ozanne Foundation and Trans Actual UK, among several others, urged the government to #StopDithering and immediately ban the harmful practice, which has been discredited by the NHS and the World Psychiatric Association.
So-called conversion therapy refers to any attempt at changing a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity and often involves cruel techniques such as electroshock therapy or prayer.
LGBTQ+ human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, Jayne Ozanne of the Ban Conversion Therapy Coalition and Rev Colin Coward delivered a letter demanding a ban to Liz Truss, Equalities Minister, which garnered 7,500 signatures.
It’s A Sin star Stephen Fry supported the #StopDithering petition, saying: “Any attempt to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity is unethical. I urge you to sign this petition and call on the UK government to act swiftly to honour its pledge to make this cruel, contemptuous and harmful practice illegal.”
Mr Tatchell added: “The government has said conversion therapy is a complex issue but Germany and states in the US and Australia have successfully banned it – and Canada is about to ban it. The Australian state of Victoria recently passed legislation that could be easily and quickly adapted for the UK.
“Liz Truss is insisting on another needless, time-wasting consultation. LGBT+ conversion treatments have been condemned by all major UK medical, psychological and counselling organisations.
“Government ministers have had three years to consult with LGBT+ organisations but so far they have consulted with very few of us. Reports suggest, however, that they have been in contact with religious groups who practice or support these abusive therapies.”
In 2019, the UK’s then-prime minister Theresa May said it was the government’s priority to “end the practice of conversion therapy” as part of their 75-point plan to improve the lives of LGBTQ+ people across the country.
After a year of silence, Boris Johnson commented on the topic at a school visit in Kent last year, where he described the practice as “absolutely abhorrent” and said it has “no place in a civilised society, and has no place in this country.”
During her speech to UK parliament in May, the Queen finally announced the government’s plans to illegalise conversion therapy. “Measures will be brought forward to address racial and ethnic disparities and ban conversion therapy,” she explained.
The Queen also said the government will “strengthen and renew democracy and the constitution” as well as “protect freedom of speech and restore the balance of power between the executive, legislature and the courts.”
Despite May, Johnson and the Queen’s comments, LGBTQ+ activists are doubtful a ban will ever happen.
Ozanne, chair of the Ban Conversion Therapy Coalition, said: “It is now three years since the government committed to end “conversion therapy” and four years since the Church of England called on the government to ban it.
“Tragically, during this time countless LGBT+ people have been scarred for life by those who continue to conduct these degrading and harmful practices with impunity. We need urgent action not yet more consultation.
“Specifically, we need a meaningful ban that protects all LGBT+ people from all forms of abuse, including religious practices – which constitute the most common form of ‘conversion therapy’ in the UK today.”
Mr Tatchell concluded: “While Boris Johnson and Liz Truss procrastinate, LGBT+ people continue to suffer as a result of this quack practice, which has been linked to anxiety, depression and self-harm.
“Attempts to shame or pressure a person into denying a core part of who they are can have a devastating impact on their mental health and wellbeing. These therapies are immoral, ineffective and damaging.
“No one should be told their sexual orientation or gender identity is something that is flawed and requires changing. The practice is based on the bigoted assumption that being lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans is a defect or illness that should be ‘cured’”.