Critics say ‘loopholes’ in plans to ban conversion therapy risk lives

·4-min read

The Government’s plans to ban conversion therapy in certain scenarios contain “giant loopholes” and many LGBT people’s lives will remain at risk, critics have said.

Legislation to ban conversion therapy that attempts to change someone’s sexual orientation in certain scenarios has been outlined in the Queen’s Speech, following a series of U-turns by the Government.

The Conversion Therapy Bill will aim to stop “abhorrent practices which do not work and cause extensive harm” and protect people’s freedom to love who they want, the Government said.

But due to the “complexity of issues and need for further careful thought”, the legislation will not protect transgender people.

The Bill will also only ban conversion therapy for over-18s “who do not consent and who are coerced or forced to undergo” the practices.

Reacting to the plans, former LGBT Government adviser Jayne Ozanne said it is an “utter disgrace” for trans people to be “purposefully omitted” from the ban, and that it creates a “loophole of consent”.

The promise of legislation follows multiple changes in position and comes more than three years after the Conservative party pledged to eradicate conversion therapy.

In late March, Boris Johnson dramatically dropped plans for legislation, with a Government spokesman saying it would look at how the existing law could be applied more effectively and explore other measures.

Within hours, a furious backlash forced a hasty retreat and a senior Government source was quoted as saying legislation would be included in the Queen’s Speech.

The Prime Minister is said to have “changed his mind” after seeing the reaction to the earlier announcement.

But he defended the decision not to include trans people, saying there are “complexities and sensitivities” which need to be worked through.

Critics told the Government to stop making “pathetic excuses”, protesters took to the streets, and so many LGBT+ groups pulled out of the Government’s landmark LGBT conference that it had to be cancelled.

In a background briefing note accompanying the Queen’s Speech, the Government said the Bill will apply to England and Wales and have six main elements.

It will ensure that violent conversion therapy can be recognised as an aggravating factor when people are sentenced for existing violent offences, and make non-physical conversion therapy illegal for all minors, regardless of circumstance, and over-18s who do not “consent”.

Perpetrators found guilty will have any profit they obtained from their crimes seized, and civil measures such as protection orders – which could see passports taken off those in danger of being taken abroad for conversion therapy – will be introduced.

The legislation will protect freedom of speech for parents, clinicians and teachers and recognise clinicians’ independence, the briefing said.

The document adds: “Robust, exploratory and challenging conversations which are part of regulated care do not fall within the scope of the ban.”

LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall said the Government must “stop playing politics with our lives”.

It said: “A ban on conversion practices that doesn’t cover both sexual orientation and gender identity protects nobody.

“Those who want to erase or suppress LGBTQ+ people from living their lives do not differentiate between the two.”

Former LGBT Government adviser Ms Ozanne tweeted: “Whilst I’m naturally relieved to see that the Government are still committed to banning “conversion therapy”, it is of great concern that they are creating so many loopholes and leaving so many people unprotected.

“The Government’s own research shows that trans people are twice as likely to be offered ‘conversion therapy’ and it is an utter disgrace that they have purposefully omitted them from the ban.”

She added that the Bill will create a “loophole of consent” which will continue to put “many lives” at risk.

The Ban Conversion Therapy coalition said there are “two giant loopholes” – so-called “consent”, and trans people not being protected.

Downing Street acknowledged that over-18s would be able to undergo conversion therapy despite the Government claiming to be planning a ban on “abhorrent practices which do not work and cause extensive harm”.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “This is a difficult area and we need to strike the right balance. I think it’s important to wait for the full details of the Bill to be set out.”

The spokesman added: “It is obviously abhorrent to force this on anyone, it is a complex area that needs careful management.”

Conversion therapy “has no basis in fact in any way, shape or form”, the spokesman said.

Asked whether the loophole was needed to prevent people being blocked from receiving religious counselling, the spokesman said: “It’s important that the freedom to express religious teachings is not affected by the ban, individuals will still be able to access support and counsel from religious leaders should they wish.

“But that’s a separate issue to seeking to force this abhorrent practice on people.”

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