A shameful history of Tory dither and delay on banning conversion therapy

·5-min read

In July 2018, the Conservative government promised the UK’s LGBT+ community that they would ban the traumatising, dehumanising practice known as conversion therapy.

That month, Theresa May’s government released its LGBT Action Plan – a comprehensive document that laid out how the Tories would work to improve life for queer people in the UK.

The goals in the plan weren’t pulled out of nowhere – they were based on extensive research. Specifically, the government pledged to ban conversion therapy after it carried out a survey which found that five per cent of LGBT+ people in the UK had been offered conversion therapy, while two per cent had directly experienced the debunked practice.

It seemed like real change was on the way for LGBT+ people – and then it all fell apart. It has now been more than three years since the Conservative government of the day made their promise to Britain’s queer population. In that time, no legislation has been advanced; we still don’t know what a bill would even look like and, crucially, we have yet to find out whether it will protect all members of the LGBT+ community.

Since then, queer people have had to contend with endless delays – and many have been left wondering if the government will ever advance legislation to prohibit the dangerous practice.

Theresa May’s downfall and Boris Johnson’s rise has put a conversion therapy ban on the backburner

Plans for a conversion therapy ban started to go south when Theresa May became one of the many political casualties of Brexit.

In May 2019 – less than a year after her government promised to ban conversion therapy in its LGBT Action Plan – Theresa May announced that she was resigning as prime minister following humiliating rebellions from Tory MPs on her Brexit deal.

In July, Boris Johnson became the new leader of the Tories, and that December he led the Tories to its best election performance since 1979, cementing the party’s shift further right.

In the summer of 2020, there was still no progress on a conversion therapy ban – and LGBT+ people were starting to question what had happened to the government’s grand plans to outlaw the practice.

In June of that year, women and equalities minister Liz Truss described conversion therapy as a “vile, abhorrent practice” during a speech in the House of Commons. She said the government had “commissioned research to look at the scope of the practice in the UK”.

In July, Johnson told ITV News that conversion therapy had “no place” in a civilised society and he promised his government would bring forward legislation.

“On the gay conversion therapy thing, I think that’s absolutely abhorrent and has no place in a civilised society, has no place in this country.”

“What we’re gonna do is a study right now on… where is this actually happening? How prevalent is it? And we will then bring forward plans to ban it.”

It later emerged that the results of that research landed on ministers’ desks in December 2020 – but the study was never made publicly available.

The Tories have been accused of ‘dragging their feet’ on conversion therapy

Ever since, LGBT+ activists have been heaping pressure on the government to take action and to ban the practice – but their pleas are seemingly being ignored.

That was evidenced spectacularly in March when a row broke out in relation to the government’s LGBT Advisory Panel. Three members of the panel – which was set up under Theresa May’s government – resigned, citing a “hostile environment” for LGBT+ people in the Tory administration.

One of those who resigned was Jayne Ozanne, who is herself a survivor of conversion therapy. She cited a concerning speech given by equalities minister Kemi Badenoch earlier that month following a conversion therapy debate. In her speech, Badenoch refused to use the word “ban” and refused to give MPs a timeline for when legislation prohibiting the practice would being introduced.

Just one day after Ozanne resigned, James Morton and Ellen Murray quit the panel. In a blistering letter to Priti Patel, Morton said he had “no confidence” that the UK government wanted to protect the rights of LGBT+ people in the UK.

Shortly after those resignations, Truss told ITV News that she would “bring forward plans to ban conversion therapy” in the near future – but all wasn’t as it seemed. In April, the LGBT Advisory Panel was disbanded altogether, and in May, the government signalled that it had abandoned the 2018 LGBT Action Plan entirely.

However, that same month, the government announced that it would ban conversion therapy after a public consultation process on the topic – and LGBT+ people immediately reacted with frustration and disappointment. A previous public consultation into Gender Recognition Act (GRA) reform found that there was broad public support for change – but the government scrapped its plans anyway.

The government’s conversion therapy public consultation was reportedly due to kick off in September – but it was delayed yet again, according to BBC News. The process is now expected to begin in late October.

LGBT+ activists have repeatedly condemned the government for its “dither and delay” when it comes to a conversion therapy ban – and it’s not hard to see why. More than three years since the Tories first promised to ban the practice, conversion therapy remains completely legal in all regions of the UK.

Politicians in Scotland and Northern Ireland have grown frustrated with the slow progress – Nicola Sturgeon has said she will take matters into her own hands if Johnson’s government doesn’t act soon, while plans are already afoot to outlaw conversion therapy in Northern Ireland.

As time drags on, it’s increasingly unclear when – or if – the government plans to put an end to conversion therapy in the UK.

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