Why banning conversion therapy matters

Why we need to ban conversion therapy now

person with body painting

“If I wait for someone else to validate my existence,
it will mean that I’m shortchanging myself.”

Zanele Muholi, queer black African activist and artist

Why does this matter to me?

In October 2021, in the UK, the Equalities Minister opened a 6-week public consultation for a proposed bill to ban conversion therapy. In principle, this is clearly an excellent idea and, if anything, long overdue. However, Huston, we have a fucking problem.

I get it, conversion therapy can be an uncomfortable and overwhelming topic, even for therapists. However, please stick with me, as we can successfully navigate this together…

Let me ask you, how do you feel about forced marriage or female genital mutilation (FGM)? Chances are, they’re not part of your daily life, but you don’t find this sort of physical, psychological, and emotional abuse acceptable. My guess (hope?) is that, by the end of this article, you’ll feel the same way about conversion therapy.

In this article, I’ll walk you through why this is so important and what you can easily do to have your voice heard and make a life-saving difference.

What is conversion therapy?

Conversion therapies, sometimes also referred to as cure, aversion, or reparative therapies, are techniques intended to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity. According to the UK government’s national LGBT survey, “in extreme cases, they may also include surgical and hormonal interventions, or so-called ‘corrective’ rape.”

That survey also found that 7% of LGBT people have been subjected to or offered conversion therapy. These figures are higher for trans and asexual people. Also, respondents were most likely to say that faith organisations had offered (53%) or conducted (51%) conversion therapy.

Surely we want to ban that shit?

Abso-fucking-lutely! Nobody should be subjected to that sort of abuse. Ever. However, the proposal contains some serious issues.  For me, the most worrying are:

  1. It still allows “consenting” adults to receive conversion therapy, with a very flimsy definition of consent and limited understanding of coercion. 
  2. It contains a very limited understanding of sexuality, as it only includes monosexual orientations (gay and lesbian) ignoring polysexual orientations (such as bisexual, pansexual, omnisexual).
  3. It fails to offer any form of protection for asexual people, a sexuality that is widely misunderstood and patholgised even within therapy. 
  4.  There is no mention of intersex people, who are often the least represented and protected within the LGBT+ community.
  5.  Non-binary people are also excluded and therefore not protected.

That's not all...

Seriously worrying is the inaccurate representation of gender-affirming processes. The proposal states that young people need to be “protected” from irreversible decisions. 

Yet in the UK, there are no irreversible gender-affirming processes available for under 18-year-olds. None. Zero. Put simply, that’s no cross-sex hormones and no surgery until 18. 

What is available, if they can actually get an appointment at a gender clinic, are puberty blockers from 16 years old. There is currently no evidence that puberty blockers create irreversible changes, as the person will continue the process of puberty when they stop taking the blockers.

So, is the concern that teens can access puberty blockers without parental consent? If that’s the problem, let me introduce you to a lovely piece of medical law that relates to whether people under 16 are able to consent to their own medical treatment. In England and Wales, children under 16 can consent to their own treatment if they’re believed to have enough intelligence, competence, and understanding to fully appreciate what’s involved in their treatment. (For the geeks, it’s called Gillick competence.) So this already covers any under 18s who do want to receive puberty blockers without their parent or guardian’s consent.

These misrepresentations of gender-affirming treatments feed into the scaremongering that is prevalent in anti-trans narratives. It’s not only unhelpful but also dangerous as it’s presenting a false risk, which needs to be challenged.

What can I do to help?

So glad you asked!

  1. Access the prepared resources available online, such as Stonewall and Pink Therapy’s guidance. These walk you through the process step by step and provide useful information for every question in the consultation. You’re welcome to crib from this article too.
  2. Access the consultation here. You can always save your answers and come back later to finish them.
  3. Please do it soon, as the consultation closes 6th December 2021 and these links will probably only work for the duration of the consultation.  
  4. If you want to read further research on why conversion therapy should be banned, here’s the Cooper report published October 2021.

Get help and support

If you have experienced conversion therapy yourself, support is available here. You deserve to receive appropriate support from people who get you and don’t think you are broken or are trying to “fix” you. I also have experience of working with clients who are survivors of conversion therapy. I’m here for you.