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LGBTQ groups slam ministers' approach to 'ending' conversion therapy over a proper ban

Government does not want to stop those seeking "spiritual counselling as they explore their sexual orientation", Equalities Minister said this week.

2021-03-11

Words: Jamie Tabberer; picture: Pexels

LGBTQ groups have joined together to write a letter urging ministers to rethink their approach to banning LGBTQ conversion therapy.

The letter follows news that top members of the government's LGBT Advisory Panel Jayne Ozanne and James Morten had resigned over ministers' inaction on the issue.

A debate on conversion therapy took place in Parliament on Monday, prompted by a petition signed by over 250,000.

Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Equalities Kemi Badenoch said the practise has "no place in a civilised society" but added "robust" laws are already in place to stop the most extreme examples, adding the government does not want to stop those who "seek spiritual counselling as they explore their sexual orientation."

She also used the term "end" rather than 'ban' when discussing how conversion therapy should be dealt with.

"Deep concern"

Groups including Stonewall, the LGBT Foundation and Trans Media Watch expressed "deep concern" over Badenoch's statements, claiming they "imply that you have been meeting with perpetrators of conversion therapy and those who want the practice to continue."

The letter continues: "This is very worrying and gives the impression that the government is more interested in appeasing the extreme fringes of religious people, despite the calls for a ban from senior religious leaders from across a wide range of faiths."

Speaking to ITV News yesterday, Ozanne said she fears a "return to days of Section 28” as the “government listens only to right wing evangelicals.”

She told the broadcaster: "I’ve been increasingly concerned about what is seen to be a hostile environment for LGBT people among this administration.

"Over the years which the advisory panel has met, we’ve seen an increasing lack of engagement and the actions of ministers have frankly been against our advice.”

Theresa May pledged to ban the scientifically-debunked practise - which attempts to change or suppress a person's sexuality or gender identity - in 2018, with Boris Johnson echoing her claims in 2020.

However, there has been little movement until Monday's debate, the outcome of which is yet to be revealed.

The letter to Badenoch also states: “Despite an excellent debate, involving MPs from across the United Kingdom showing their support for a ban, your response failed to engage with any of their concerns regarding the need for urgent action and notably did not use the word ‘ban’ once.

“Your claim that there are already legal protections in place to protect LGBT+ people from harm fails to understand the power dynamics at work in these types of situations, and the inability of victims to have recourse to justice.

“What is more, we were extremely troubled by your omission of any mention of protection for trans people, given the number of strong speeches stressing that they are at the most likely to be at risk.

“While we are glad to hear that your department is ‘working at pace’, we fail to understand why – after nearly 1,000 days – coming forward with meaningful legislation is taking so much time.

“There is now a wide body of international learning on this matter, and indeed good models of legislation that build on the insights from lesbian, gay, bi, trans, intersex, queer and asexual survivors.”

Attitude approached the Equalities Office for comment yesterday, and a spokesperson said: "The government is committed to building a country in which everyone, no matter their sexuality, race or religion, is free to live their lives as they choose.

"We have repeatedly made clear that we will take action to end conversion therapy and we are working to bring forward plans to do so shortly."

Conversion therapy is already banned in countries such as Germany, Switzerland and parts of Australia.

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