What is conversion therapy? Meaning of practise for gay and trans people - and plans for UK ban explained

LGBT organisations have called for trans conversion therapy to be included in the ban

The Conservative have cancelled an international LGBT conference after more than 100 organisations pulled out due trans conversion therapy being excluded from a planned ban.

It is the latest embarrassment for the government after they were forced to U-turn on their plans to shelve the outlawing of conversion therapy.

After outrage at the proposal, Boris Johnson confirmed that gay conversion therapy was indeed to be banned but that trans conversion will not be included in legislation.

This led to prominent LGBT+ organisations reacting angrily and pulling out of the ‘Safe To Be Me’ conference which was planned for later this year.

The Conservative have rolled back plans to ban controversial LGBT conversion therapy after previously noting their intention to do so. (Credit: Getty Images)The Conservative have rolled back plans to ban controversial LGBT conversion therapy after previously noting their intention to do so. (Credit: Getty Images)
The Conservative have rolled back plans to ban controversial LGBT conversion therapy after previously noting their intention to do so. (Credit: Getty Images)

What is conversion therapy?

Conversion therapy is a practice in which the sexual orientation or gender identity of someone is purposefully suppressed through a series of different methods.

People who identify as LGBT+ may be subjected to talking therapies, as well as prayer in religious organisations by someone who wishes them to suppress their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Much more extreme methods include exorcism, physical violence and forced starvation.

It may also be called “gay care therapy” or “reparative therapy”.

For example, gay conversion therapy is used specifically on those who do not identify as heterosexual , while trans conversion therapy is what is used to suppress feeling in people who wish to change their gender identity

The practice is already banned in several countries including Brazil, Norway and Uruguay.

What is the UK government’s stance on conversion therapy?

Conversion therapy has been described as “abhorrent” by the current UK government.

It was announced in May 2021 during the Queen’s Speech that the practice was to be banned in the UK after a public consultation.

However, in a leaked Downing Street briefing email, Mr Johnson is said to have “agreed we should not move forward with legislation”.

The document argued that the decision could be justified by arguing that the government is focusing on current events such as the war in Ukraine and the rising cost of living.

It said: “Given the unprecedented circumstances of major pressures on cost of living and the crisis in Ukraine, there is an urgent need to rationalise our legislative programme”.

The leaked communication also said that equalities minister and foreign secretary Liz Truss had not been informed of the Prime Minister’s decision.

It read: “While Liz is not ideologically committed to the legislation, she is likely to be concerned about owning the new position, having personally committed to delivering the Bill.”

The briefing was leaked one day after Equalities Minister Mike Freer told MPs that the government was “wholly committed” to banning conversion therapy, adding that work to do so was “progressing at pace”.

In the leaked communication, it warned that the decision would be met with backlash, adding: “The LGBT sector will read this decision as a signal the government is uninterested in LGBT issues.”

It was also revealed that the government did not intend on releasing this information to the public yet, instead opting to wait until this year’s Queen’s Speech.

It read: “This will allow us to position the decision as prioritising our legislative programme, and reduces the risk of looking like we have singled out an LGBT issue.”

While a government spokesman confirmed the legitimacy of the leaked document, they added that ministers were working to use “non-legislative” measures to review ways to stop conversion therapy.

The Prime Minister was forced into backtracking on plans to shelve the banning after politicians and LGBT+ activists reacted furiously to the news.

Just hours after the leaked email was made public, Mr Johnson is said to have “changed his mind”.

However, the ban will only include the outlawing of gay conversion therapy and will exclude trans conversion therapy.

What has been the reaction to the government U-turn on conversion therapy?

While the ban on gay conversion being back on the table is being welcomed, campaigners say that not including transgender conversion therapy in the ban is n

Jayne Ozanne, an LGBT campaign for Church of England and chair of the #BanConversionTherapy coalition, called the decision to not include trans conversion therapy in the ban as “utter ludicrous” while speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live.

Labour MP Nadia Whittome said: “Boris Johnson has u-turned again after the strength of feeling and will ban conversion therapy for cisgender lesbian, gay and bisexual people but not trans people.

“It’s still not good enough. LGB comes with the T, and the Tories are not on our side.”

More than 100 LGBT organisations, including Stonewall, have announced their intention to pull out of the government’s international LGBT conference, which is due to take place later this year.

As a result, the government confirmed that the conference will be cancelled.

Meanwhile, many religious groups have voiced their dismay at the ban going ahead, stating that the law would restrict religious freedoms.

Simon Calvert, deputy director at The Christian Institute, said that the government had “caved in to people who see this law as a way of punishing evangelicals for their beliefs about sexuality”.