After a chaotic 24 hours for the government’s long-running promise to introduce a ban of conversion therapy practices in England and Wales, I’m left feeling a renewed sense of concern over the fate of the legislation, and the LGBTQ+ people it should be protecting.
Put aside the disappointing delays and u-turns, this ban will now not protect the entirety of the LGBTQ+ community who have been so desperately calling for it.
I’m an ambassador with Just Like Us, the LGBT+ young people’s charity, and I volunteer with them to deliver school talks about LGBTQ+ identity, allyship and my story growing up bisexual to pupils in the UK. As a charity, we promote the LGBTQ+ inclusive and accepting environments that conversion therapy practises seek to dismantle and undermine.
According to NHS England, conversion therapy refers to the practice of attempting to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity. It is widely understood that all forms of conversion therapy are both unethical and damaging to those who are subject to it.
It emerged yesterday that the government were, after years of promising over multiple administrations to make conversion therapy an illegal practice, planning to drop the ban altogether.
The news broke via a leaked government document titled ‘Conversion Therapy Handling Plan’, that predicted significant upset in the LGBTQ+ community as a result of the decision. This was certainly accurate, and I’m relieved and proud that LGBTQ+ activists, as well as allies in parliament and beyond, were able to quickly pressure the government into reversing the decision.
But this is all overridden by a much greater sense of exasperation and fear for the safety of the transgender community, which this ban now actively excludes. The legislation that will enact the ban now aims to outlaw only practices that aim to change a person’s sexual orientation. Attempts to change a person’s gender identity will remain legal under the ban.
To me, this undermines the very aim of the ban altogether. It is no longer a measure to protect the whole LGBTQ+ community, and denies support and protection arguably to those who need it most. As a bisexual person who fits into the ‘LGB’ of this community, I am still shocked and appalled that transgender and other gender-non-conforming individuals are being omitted from this protective legislation.
As a cisgender man, I’m deeply uncomfortable about these efforts to delineate gender identity from sexual orientation within the LGBTQ+ community.
Trans people need protection from this harmful so-called ‘conversion therapy’ – that is widely known to be incredibly damaging – just as much as the rest of the LGBTQ+ community.
This decision will do more than fail to protect trans people from conversion therapy – something that in itself will already be severely damaging to those who are exposed to the practice. By allowing the transgender community to be legally subjected to conversion therapy, a wider message that it is valid to discredit trans people’s right to self-identification is endorsed.
Perhaps most worryingly, however, is that this is arguably the most blatant, outrageous, and damaging homophobic practice that an LGBTQ+ person can be subject to. If we can’t even agree that this is fundamentally wrong and dangerous, what does this mean for the spectrum of more nuanced and complicated manifestations of homophobia and intolerance in our society?
I still have hope that the LGBTQ+ community will stand together and support each other, even if others try to break us apart. And I take pride in the work I and so many other Just Like Us ambassadors do in trying to encourage a tolerant and accepting society for all LGBTQ+ people.
Trans people need safety and protection too – excluding them would be a terrible mistake that will affect future generations of young people who will be left facing this traumatising practice.
Billy is a volunteer ambassador with Just Like Us, the LGBT+ young people’s charity – sign up now to volunteer.