Right now, thousands of people in this country are still being told their sexual identity is a choice and that it can be cured. That is completely and utterly wrong.
That anyone believes they have the right to tell someone else that being gay is wrong, or that they need converting, is vile. What is even worse is that some have turned this fraudulent practice into a business or so-called public service. That’s why, since I became a MP last December, I have been working hard to make sure we end so-called LGBTQ 'conversion' therapy.
As Attitude readers know, 'conversion' therapy remains woefully widespread. According to the Government’s own survey of LGBTQ people – the largest in the world to date - over 2,000 people reported undergoing conversion or reparative 'therapy'. Friends of mine have been threatened with electro-shock therapy, or even corrective rape, forced to undergo 'conversion' therapy and some are still unable to live their lives openly for fear of rejection or worse. It is for them, and everyone in our country whose sole crime is to love and seek acceptance, that I am fighting to ban 'conversion' therapy.
But how do you ban this abusive and fraudulent practice? I’ve been working with the Equalities Office and have set out a legal framework that I believe would best protect victims, hold perpetrators to account and do as much as we can to end the practice.
Alicia Kearns is the Conservative Member of Parliament for Rutland and Melton
Firstly, no child can consent to conversion therapy, and our laws must make clear that no child should ever undergo this abuse. Family Courts need the power to put in place protection orders to stop parents from forcing their children to undergo this abusive practice – or even taking them abroad for it. At the same time, we must include a mandatory legal requirement to report known or suspected cases of 'conversion' therapy, to support those children too scared to speak out. It should be an offence to fail to protect children from conversion.
By making this abusive practice a crime we enable survivors to get justice through the courts. We need to criminalise those who force someone to undergo 'conversion' therapy, and those who abet, aid and procure these abusive services to repress or eliminate a person’s sexual orientation or manifestation of that sexual orientation.
What I also want to see, is MPs finding a way to ban the advertising of LGBTQ 'conversion' therapy – this is fraud - plain and simple and we have to crack down on those who hawk it. Survivors should also be able to access state-funded support as victims of crime, and the Government should fund an LGBTQ charity to provide a phoneline for victims to seek support.
This does not mean, however, that we should criminalise discussions with counsellors, nor between faith leaders and their parishioners. We all know that sexual identity, wherever you fall on the spectrum, is complex and bound up with our fundamental beliefs in many other areas of our lives, including for some, religious practices. Many religious LGBTQ+ people I speak to want to be able to hold dialogue with their faith leaders, and we must ensure that they are free to have those conversations. However, the laws we create must allow stop those individuals crossing the line and coercing people into abusive conversion therapy.
It’s also important that we protect counselling services for the transgender community. Affirming transgender identities should not be controversial in the year 2020 – we have a duty to bring in policies which reflect UK society as a beacon of tolerance and acceptance. Individuals must still be able to access services that affirm their gender identity, and we do this simply by explicitly stating in legislation that transgender support services are not within scope. We must stand by and support our trans communities.
There are a lot of MPs in Westminster campaigning on this – and the Government is listening to us. We have the most LGBTQ representative Parliament in the world, indeed just on the Conservative benches we have more openly LGBTQ MPs than all the other parties put together. The time for change is now, and the Government, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, is working to deliver a legislative answer.
Alicia Kearns was elected to parliament in December 2019
I recognise a ban may not end conversion therapy completely, there will always be those who seek back-alley practitioners to force it on others. But what we can do, is give survivors the ability to prosecute those responsible for abuse, create formal support for survivors and create a strong deterrent in the law.
There are many LGBTQ allies in Parliament, and I am proud to be fighting for this vital change. I hope by the end of the year we can end the abhorrent and fraudulent practice of 'conversion' therapy once and for all, so when we celebrate together at next Summer’s pride, we can do so with new legal protections in place, and a clear message: sexual orientation is not a pathology, and it damn well doesn’t need treating.
Alicia Kearns is the Conservative Member of Parliament for Rutland and Melton, and Member of the Foreign Affairs Committee and National Security Strategy Joint Committee