We must criminalise abhorrent practice of LGBTQ+ conversion therapy
We need specific legislation rather than relying on existing GBH laws to give survivors the ability to prosecute those responsible, create formal support for survivors, ban advertising of the practice, and create a strong deterrent in law.
On the eve of LGBTQ+ History Month, ‘It’s A Sin’ premiered on our screens. It’s a haunting and heart-breaking telling of the 1980s Aids epidemic, laying bare the trauma inflicted by prejudice, ignorance and frankly, hatred, on the lives of a group of gay men and their loved ones.
It is not however a story of discrimination long-since exorcised from our society. Thousands of LGBTQ+ people are subject to trauma every day. Nowhere is this more evident than in the fraudulent and abhorrent practice of LGBTQ+ conversion therapy, which Roscoe flees home to escape at the beginning of the TV series.
So-called ‘conversion therapy’ is just as it sounds: attempts to use medical, psychological and social methods to ‘convert’ someone away from their innate sexual orientation. It can range from ‘therapy’ and prayer sessions, to aversive treatments like electroshocks or even ‘corrective’ rape. The impact is deeply harmful, causing life-long difficulties in forming relationships, experiencing positive emotions and maintaining self-esteem as well as painful physical manifestations of abuse.
Is it a problem today? Most certainly. The government’s survey of LGBTQ+ people – the largest in the world to date – saw over 2,000 respondents state they’d undergone conversion therapy. Some of our colleagues on the green benches have been threatened with, or been forced to undergo, this so-called ‘treatment’.
Since my election, I have campaigned to secure a legislative ban and I am hugely grateful to the Prime Minister for his support on this issue, and the leadership of the Secretary of State for Equalities who is working hard to bring forward plans to end this horrendous practice with the full support of the Secretary of State for Health.
Any ban must include not only conversion therapy to change sexual orientation, but also attempts to prevent, against the individual’s wishes, a gender transition
Over the last few months, I have worked with 15 major LGBTQ+ advocacy groups, and senior representatives of eight religious denominations, and together we have put forward to the government a proposed definition of conversion therapy, and legislative options to ban this abhorrent practice.
We need legislation 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.
Like Female Genital Mutilation, we need specific legislation rather than relying on existing GBH laws to give survivors the ability to prosecute those responsible (especially for non-violent practices), create formal support for survivors, ban advertising of the practice, and create a strong deterrent in law.
Legislation should also include a power for family courts 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, and a mandatory legal requirement to report known or suspected cases of 'conversion' therapy.
Any ban must include not only conversion therapy to change sexual orientation, but also attempts to prevent, against the individual’s wishes, a gender transition. This must not ban support which in good faith explores someone’s gender identity but stop non-consensual attempts to prevent someone from expressing their own identity.
There must, of course, be provisions made for the complex discussions around faith and sexuality too, and any ban should include a recognition of our fundamental freedoms of thought and belief. But that cannot be an excuse for inaction.
Religious leaders from every major faith in the UK have taken a stand calling for an end to conversion therapy, standing alongside LGBTQ+ organisations and professional associations for psychotherapists and counsellors.
LGBTQ+ History Month is a time to reflect on how far we have come, but also to recognise that as Parliamentarians our work is not done. I hope MPs across the House will back the government’s plans when they come forward because sexual orientation is not a pathology, and we have a duty to make history by outlawing this barbaric and fraudulent practice.
Alicia Kearns is the Conservative MP for Rutland and Melton.