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LGBT+ Tories "Won't Stop" Until Trans People Are Included In A Conversion Therapy Ban

5 min read

The LGBT+ Conservative group has vowed it “won’t stop” campaigning until Downing Street confirms trans people will be included in the government’s long awaited bill banning conversion therapy.

The official party-affiliated organisation representing Tory LGBT+ members told PoliticsHome they believed banning conversion therapy targeted at trans people is “fundamentally about human rights” and is a matter of “the power of the individual” against the “power of the state”. 

An internal party row over conversion therapy erupted last week when ITV exposed a leaked document showing that Downing Street planned to quietly drop its commitment to banning conversion therapy. 

Following strong backlash, including from a range of Tory MPs and LGBT+ rights groups, within three hours of the leak, Downing Street partially U-turned on the decision and confirmed they would ban conversion therapy relating to gay and bisexual people. But they did not extend this commitment to banning the practice in relation to trans people. 

“We should be at the forefront of this argument about people being able to achieve the identity that they want,” Andrew Boff, patron of LGBT+ Conservatives told PoliticsHome. 

“It should be a Conservative value and it’s not going to go away” he added. 

The decision has prompted outrage from more than 80 LGBT+ and HIV organisations, including Stonewall, who have announced a boycott of the government’s global equality conference, Safe to Be Me, which is due to commence in June in London. 

On Monday a number of religious leaders, including former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, wrote to Boris Johnson urging him to include trans people in the government’s conversion therapy ban.

Boff described the letter as “helpful” and said he knows “plenty of people committed to their faith” who support the fight for trans equality. 

But despite the support of prominent religious leaders, PoliticsHome understands that discreet lobbying by various Conservative party factions motivated by religious views, have worked to prevent trans people from being included in the conversion therapy ban.  

One Tory insider told PoliticsHome that the party is broadly split into three camps on the issue. 

The first is supportive of a blanket ban on conversion therapy relating to all LGBTQ+ groups and primarily includes young and socially progressive Tory MPs. 

The second is made up of some evangelical and other hardline religious MPs who have pushed back against legislating a ban on conversion therapy. 

The final camp involves MPs who are indifferent to the issue of conversion therapy specifically, but have concerns about the implications of an overall ban for freedom of speech and religion. 

The insider added that MPs in the second group have been using the “law of unintended consequences”, such as perceived implications for freedom of religion, as a vehicle to push MPs dedicated to maximising free speech into supporting their ideological view. 

Some Tory MPs are also wary of banning trans conversion therapy because they believe it could have consequences on individuals requiring counselling for gender dysphoria. 

Boff told PoliticsHome that he agreed that “free speech is important,” but that there needed to be a "clear definition of what free speech is and what hate speech is”.

Across both Labour and the Conservative party debates relating to a range from trans rights issues have divided MPs and gripped sections of the British media.

One question that has stirred internal controversy across the political spectrum is the issue of whether a woman can have a penis, referencing the fact that some people who identify as trans women may not have medically transitioned and could still have biologically male genitalia. 

On Monday morning Minister for Brexit Opportunities Jacob Rees-Mogg told LBC it is not possible for a woman to have a penis.

"I don't want to tell them how to lead their lives, but I agree that there are some things that are perfectly obvious, and you can't contradict them,” the cabinet member, who is a practising Catholic, said.

"I think God making us in his own image is quite good enough for me," he added.

Rees-Mogg’s comments come within days of Tory MP Jamie Wallis announcing he is transgender

Boff was dismissive of Rees-Mogg’s comments. “All I do know is that when I'm introduced to somebody, I don't check their genitalia in order to know which pronouns to use," he told PoliticsHome.

“There's a whole range of experiences people have with their genders and it's ludicrous to try and dismiss that with the idea that everybody comes in a state regulated gender.” 

In a statement issued on Monday evening, a government spokesperson confirmed the issue of transgender conversion therapy will be carried out as "separate work". 

"The Government has a proud record on LGBT rights, and the Prime Minister is committed to bringing forward legislation to ban conversion therapy," they said.

"Recognising the complexity of issues and need for further careful thought, we will carry out separate work to consider the issue of transgender conversion therapy further.

"This is a legally complex area and we have a responsibility to ensure unintended consequences are not written into legislations, particularly in the case of under 18s." 

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