Government Accused Of Endangering LGBT Lives With Conversion Therapy “Consent Loophole”
The government have pledged to ban conversion therapy but say it won't cover trans conversion or adults who consent to it (Alamy)
The government has reiterated a pledge to “ban” conversion therapy in today's Queen's speech, but a loophole creates an exception to the ban if it is believed that adults "consent" to the practice.
Ministers have been accused of “siding with the abusers” and “kowtowing to bigoted interests” after details of the plan were outlined in the Queen’s Speech today, which also confirmed it will not apply to trans conversion.
For several years the Conservatives have promised to end the widely condemned practice which aims to try and alter someone’s sexuality, but legislation to criminalise it has been repeatedly delayed.
In the 2021 Queen's speech, the government repeated once again that measures would be "brought forward" to ban conversion therapy, but the proposals failed to materialise. Last month the government indicated it would drop the plans in favour of reviewing ways to stop conversion therapy through existing laws and other measures.
Following a major backlash, the government partially U-turned just hours later and said they would still ban the practice for gay or bisexual people – but not for transgender people.
Many LGBT+ groups were infuriated by trans conversion therapy being excluded from the ban, leading to so many pulling out of the Government’s landmark LGBT conference that it had to be cancelled.
Today’s announcement of the draft bill confirms there is no aim to ban trans conversion, but also said the criminal offence for any conversion therapy would not cover people over the age of 18 who wilfully enter into such a practice, which campaigners say is a further watering down of the initial proposals.
The detail of the draft bill in the Queen’s Speech documents says it will introduce “a criminal offence banning non-physical conversion therapies to complement existing legislation which protects people from acts which inflict physical harm”.
But it adds: “The offence will protect under-18s, regardless of circumstance, and over-18s who do not consent and who are coerced or forced to undergo conversion therapy practices.”
The Ban Conversion Therapy coalition has warned there are "two giant loopholes" in the proposals – so-called "consent", and trans people not being protected.
Jayne Ozanne, a former member of the government's LGBT+ advisory panel, and the chair and founder of the coalition, said the plans have been watered down so much it risks “becoming a ban in name only”.
"Whilst I'm naturally relieved to see that the government are still committed to banning ‘conversion therapy’, it is of great concern that they are creating so many loopholes and leaving so many people unprotected," she tweeted.
“The government's own research shows that trans people are twice as likely to be offered ‘conversion therapy’ and it is an utter disgrace that they have purposefully omitted them from the ban.
“The government's duty is to protect the most vulnerable from abuse, not to side with the abusers.
“By creating a loophole of consent, the government continues to ignore the advice of legal experts and survivors like myself, who know that this will continue to put many lives at risk.”
The LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall said the government must "stop playing politics with our lives".
"A ban on conversion practices that doesn't cover both sexual orientation and gender identity protects nobody," a spokesperson said in a statement.
"Those who want to erase or suppress LGBTQ+ people from living their lives do not differentiate between the two."
The SNP’s Hannah Bardell said these Queen’s Speech proposals “are a disgrace and deeply dangerous for Trans folk”, while her MP colleague Stewart McDonald said it was “unacceptable that the Tories, having promised a ban, are kowtowing to bigoted interests posing as concern”.
Wera Hobhouse, the Liberal Democrat spokesperson for women and equalities, told PoliticsHome: “This Government's behaviour on banning conversion therapy has been utterly shameful. Time and time again Conservative Ministers have betrayed the LGBT+ community.
“Today's exclusion of banning trans conversion therapy is a bitter blow. We must not allow this form of torture to take place in the UK. Ministers should hang their heads in shame today."
Downing Street acknowledged that over-18s would be able to undergo conversion therapy despite the government claiming to be planning a ban on "abhorrent practices which do not work and cause extensive harm".
"This is a difficult area and we need to strike the right balance. I think it's important to wait for the full details of the Bill to be set out," the Prime Minister's official spokesperson said.
They added that "abhorrent" conversion therapy "has no basis in fact in any way, shape or form”, but that it "is a complex area that needs careful management".
It has been suggested the consent loophole was needed to prevent people being blocked from receiving religious counselling, but the Prime Minister's spokesperson insisted this was a separate issue.
"Individuals will still be able to access support and counsel from religious leaders should they wish," they said.
The briefing notes on the draft legislation does leave open the possibility of the ban being extended to trans people at some point.
“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,” the document explains.
The bill would also introduce ‘Conversion Therapy Protection Orders’, which would “set out certain conditions to protect a person from undergoing the practice, including removing a passport for those at risk of being taken abroad, or any requirement the court considers necessary to protect that person”.
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