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What is conversion 'therapy' and why do people want it banned?

London, UK. 8th July 2023. Thousands of people march through central London during Trans Pride 2023. Credit: Vuk Valcic/Alamy Live News
There have been sustained calls for conversion 'therapy' to be banned in the UK. (Alamy)

MPs are reportedly set to introduce a bill this week that would ban so-called conversion "therapy".

Backbench MPs have drafted legislation to outlaw the controversial practice after the government - which has previously committed to banning the practice - did not include it in its legislative agenda in the King's Speech last month.

ITV News said the private members' bill (bills introduced by MPs and Lords who are not government ministers) would be aimed at banning all forms of conversion therapy and will be tabled in the House of Commons on Wednesday.

It has been drafted by Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle and has the support of nine Conservative MPs, including Caroline Nokes, chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, and Alicia Kearns, chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

The legislation will not be subjected to a vote until March 2024 at the earliest, ITV News said.

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"Some of the biggest social reforms in this country have happened via private members' bills," Russell-Moyle told ITV News.

"I was overwhelmed with support from all sides of the House for this reform.

"Too many have suffered for too long; we have a responsibility to ensure no one else must suffer from this practice."

Yahoo News UK examines the controversial practice and what the government has promised in the past.

What is conversion 'therapy'?

According to the British Psychological Society (BPS), so-called conversion "therapy" refers to "attempts to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, based on the assumption that being LGBT+ should be ‘cured’".

The practice isn't considered to be an actual "therapy" by health professionals.

A number of organisations, including the BPS, NHS England and the Royal College of Psychiatrists, have signed the 2017 Memorandum of Understanding on Conversion Therapy in the UK.

It reads: "Conversion therapy is the term for therapy that assumes certain sexual orientations or gender identities are inferior to others and seeks to change or suppress them on that basis.

"Conversion therapy in relation to gender identity and sexual orientation (including asexuality) is unethical, potentially harmful and is not supported by evidence."

The practice may include prayer, but in its most extreme forms also features physical violence, food deprivation and even exorcism.

LGBT Humanists UK at Pride in London 2023, celebration of LGBT+. Ban conversion therapy placard
Campaigners are frustrated with the government's failure to ban conversion 'therapy'. (PA)

When will conversion therapy be banned?

The bill to be tabled by MPs this week will not be voted on until next March, meaning any ban is some time away.

According to LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall, conversion "therapy" is already banned in countries such as Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Canada, France and New Zealand.

What has the UK government said about conversion 'therapy'?

A ban was first proposed by then prime minister Theresa May in 2018, before it was downgraded to not include transgender people by her successor, Boris Johnson.

Rishi Sunak’s government said in January it would ban conversion therapy for “everyone”, including transgender people.

Watch: Then prime minister Theresa May calls conversion 'therapy' an 'abhorrent practice'

However, despite being laid out in two Queen's speeches, the ban was dropped from last month's King's Speech, sparking a wave of criticism of the government, which said it needed more time to draft the appropriate legislation.

Commons leader Penny Mordaunt said last month: “Bringing an end to these practices is a manifesto commitment, it remains a manifesto commitment."

Downing Street has maintained that the practice is “abhorrent”, but said time is needed to work out a policy on the “complex” area in order to avoid unintended consequences.

Labour has pledged to introduce a “no loopholes” trans-inclusive ban on conversion therapy if it wins the next general election.

Ban conversion therapy protest placard at Pride in London 2023, celebration of LGBT+. Trans flag colours
A proposal to ban conversion 'therapy' is set to go before the House of Commons. (PA)

What has been the reaction?

The government has been criticised for its failure to fulfil its pledge to ban conversion "therapy".

The Bishop of London, the Rt Rev Dame Sarah Mullally, said she was disappointed that legislation was not included in the King's Speech.

“The General Synod of the Church of England voted to call on the government to ban conversion therapies in 2017," she said.

"It remains firm that abuse of power in this way must be prevented.”

Speaking after the King's Speech, Robbie de Santos, director of external affairs at Stonewall, said: The UK government’s failure to deliver a ban on conversion practices after five years of promises is an act of frightful negligence – in doing so, it has given the green light for the abuse against LGBTQ+ people to continue unchecked."

NHS Providers said it was “deeply concerned by the omission of a ban on conversion therapy”.

The Royal College of Nursing's chief nurse, Professor Nicola Ranger, said: “It’s been five wasted years of hollow promises to ban these abhorrent practices that nursing staff know have no medical basis.”