Voices: Conversion therapy is an abhorrent act that seeks to ‘cure’ a disease that doesn’t exist

It would seem that solidarity is optional, and dependent on the party line the government wants to project  (PA Archive)
It would seem that solidarity is optional, and dependent on the party line the government wants to project (PA Archive)

The question of whether conversion therapy should be banned isn’t one LGBTQIA+ people and their allies debate. On the contrary: it’s an abhorrent act that seeks to “cure” a disease that isn’t there.

Those who have experienced it have suffered a dramatic impact on their mental wellbeing, having to learn to live with severe depression, anxiety, and low self worth. Mental illness is already difficult without it being worsened by bogus therapies.

Yet, the government has consistently flip-flopped over whether it should be banned for years. The back and forth is set to continue, sadly, as the government once again makes a U-turn from not banning it – back to banning it – within the space of several hours.

News recently broke that a leaked document cited how the government was abandoning their plans to ban conversion therapy. According to the original journalistic source, the brief mentioned how Boris Johnson didn’t intend to “move forward with legislation”. Naturally, an uproar ensued.

After years of campaigning, LGBTQIA+ people living in the UK feel forgotten. Instead of being listened to, we’ve had to fight our battles again and again without much aid from those who are meant to support us. It would seem that solidarity is optional, and dependent on the party line the government wants to project.

Countless other countries have long since banned conversion therapy, with such bans stretching as far back as 1999 in Brazil. It was the first time that such a ban had been brought in, and while it originally only focused on gay conversion therapy, that may well have been indicative of the time. Yet in 2018, Brazil updated their legislation to include gender identity within that ban.

Since Brazil paved the way, countries such as Switzerland and Germany have followed suit, as have many regions across Canada, Australia, and Spain. More and more governments are doing so – yet the UK sits in a weird consultation period, unable to commit.

Even now, when the swift backlash has caused the government to backpedal once again, the betrayal many feel is palpable – we’re seen as an afterthought. And so are the practices that seek to harm us.

The British public is no stranger to the Tories behaving this way – in fact, it’s arguably one of the defining features of the Conservative government: they backpedal after damage is done. They’re reactive rather than proactive, and even then, they seem to me to react in a way that lacks tact, diplomacy or respect.

But there’s more at play here than the government’s ignorance: there’s the fact that their systematic inability to readily support queer lives singles out trans people. Despite Boris Johnson now saying the ban will go ahead, it’ll only cover gay conversion therapy – and not trans conversion therapy.

For those not aware of where the difference lies, gay converion therapy aims to change someone’s sexuality, while trans conversion is about changing their gender identity. And, as many of us know all too well, the poison of so-called gender critical thinking is scarily high in the UK.

Not only does including one form of therapy and not the other remove the legitimacy of a ban, but it also succeeds in excluding trans people from the queer community – a community they are most certainly a part of. After all, you can’t have LGB without the T, as many users, both the general public and MPs, have voiced on Twitter.

It would seem that the Tories see trans matters the way they used to view homosexuality 20 years ago – with pure ignorance. Though, if we’re totally honest, they’re still pretty uneducated in cis-gendered queer matters as well.

What makes this worse is that the government appear to believe that banning trans conversion could cause “unintended consequences”.

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What would those be, exactly? The only consequence of banning conversion therapy of any kind is to reduce the hatred and self loathing a lot of queer people are forced to endure because of such practices.

I put to you a simpler reason for the government’s exclusion: they simply don’t understand. Westminster is predominantly heternormative – perhaps explaining why Jamie Wallis MP coming out as trans this week caused such shockwaves – and many MPs view the world in a very binary way.

Gender non-comformity is simply regarded as too complicated; with too many variables.

It’s a lazy excuse, but it’s one that you see used regularly on social media and in certain sections of the press. Sadly, such common usage means the trans community are demonised as an unknown “other”, leaving them with fewer rights and/or protection.

Perhaps the government will U-turn again if the pressure keeps mounting. However, it’s more likely they’ll double down, just as they’ve done throughout the Covid pandemic.

For Boris Johnson and his cohort, it’s easier to live with a colossal mistake of poor judgement, than to rectify it.