‘Vague’ Tory equalities minister refuses to rule out UK conversion therapy ban for minors only

Kemi Badenoch equalities office

MPs from across the political spectrum have spoken of their deep disappointment with Kemi Badenoch’s “vague” speech on conversion therapy.

The secretary of state for equalities has been roundly criticised by a fellow Conservative MP, as well as the opposition, for a speech she delivered virtually at the end of a debate in Westminster Hall on Monday night (8 March).

The debate saw 20 MPs speak on the urgent need for parliament to introduce tough measures to curb conversion therapy in the UK, with many calling on the government to urgently take action after years of dragging its heels on the matter.

Badenoch did not give a timeline on when legislation on conversion therapy is likely to be advanced. She alluded to a potential exemption for faith groups, and appeared to suggest that the government might look to Germany – which has banned conversion therapy for minors only – in drafting its own laws.

When asked by PinkNews if the government is considering a ban on conversion therapy for minors and for those who have been coerced only, the equalities office pointed to two different quotes from Badenoch’s speech in which she said the government is “committed to ending conversion therapy in the UK” and said they would explore “all measures”.

When asked if the government will confirm that any law brought forward will ban conversion therapy for everybody, adults included, the equalities office refused to comment.

Badenoch made her comments as part of a wide-ranging, cross party debate in Westminster Hall, which was triggered by a petition signed by more than 250,000 people across the UK calling for conversion therapy to be banned.

In 2018, the UK government committed to banning conversion therapy in its LGBT Action Plan – but almost three years on, no legislation has been brought forward.

Kemi Badenoch failed to give a ‘timescale’ on conversion therapy ban

Conservative MP Crispin Blunt told PinkNews that Badenoch’s speech was “out of step with everybody else” who spoke at the debate.

“The work, as I understand it, has been done by the government equalities office, certainly up until Liz Truss was appointed as the equalities minister, and so I think officials know what they need to do in order to legislate,” he said.

“But there has obviously been a significant change in direction on trans [issues]… any legislation needs to protect trans people as well as LGB people from conversion therapy, and I think that is the problem for the current equalities chief.”

He said the government’s position is “very concerning”, but said the debate had been helpful in demonstrating that there is broad cross-party support for legislation.

“The community should take comfort from the fact that all the speeches from right across the political spectrum were all in the same space,” he said.

Scottish National Party (SNP) MP John Nicolson, who also spoke at Monday night’s debate, said he was “deeply disappointed” by Kemi Badenoch’s response.

“LGBT+ conversion therapy is abuse. Practitioners target the young and vulnerable telling them that their innate nature can be undone. It’s monstrous,” he said.

“I was deeply disappointed to hear the minister’s response. She offered only platitudes. There was no sense of urgency and no guarantees of action. But then again she has a boss in Boris Johnson who thinks gay men are ‘bum boys in tank tops’,” Nicolson added.

Charlotte Nichols, Labour’s shadow women and equalities minister, told PinkNews that Kemi Badenoch’s speech “betrayed a real lack of understanding or awareness” around conversion therapy.

“This is something that transcends party politics – all right minded people should agree that this is an abhorrent practice that should be banned,” Nichols said.

Nichols criticised Badenoch for saying that some of the more extreme forms of conversion therapy, such as corrective rape, are already illegal under existing laws.

“Yes, those things are already illegal. But the problem is when people are at risk of conversion therapy practices, because conversion therapy isn’t illegal, there is no way of safeguarding those people before those practices occur,” Nichols said.

“So all you’re doing is saying, ‘Well, if these practices happen after the fact, the parts of those practices that are already illegal, we will prosecute people.’ OK, but what about stopping it from happening in the first place?”

Everything she said was just so vague – no timescales on anything, no actual commitments to any concrete policy.

Nichols also criticised Badenoch for suggesting that it isn’t the role of the state to decide what is or isn’t a “harmful expression of religion”. She noted that issues such as forced marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM), both intimately tied up with religion, have been banned because they are recognised to be harmful.

Nichols also said it is a “perfectly legitimate reading” of Kemi Badenoch’s speech to assume the government could pursue a conversion therapy ban for minors only.

“I think the issue comes down to actually how vague what she said was,” Nichols said.

“Everything she said was just so vague – no timescales on anything, no actual commitments to any concrete policy. You can see why people are going to be concerned that’s what she’s alluding to.”

She added: “They’re saying that they’re working on it, that they’re considering all options. And it’s a bit like, ‘Well, you had three years since the 2018 LGBT Action Plan was published. In that three years, shouldn’t you have narrowed down some of those options you’re considering?”

Meanwhile, Stonewall CEO Nancy Kelley said the “passion” from MPs at Monday night’s debate was “extremely powerful” and said she welcomed cross-party support for a conversion therapy ban.

“We urge the government to act on the many testimonies they heard and create a clear pathway and timescale to bring forward a ban on all forms of LGBTQIA+ conversion therapy, wherever it happens, whoever it is targeted at. Now is the time for government to stop dragging their feet and act,” she said.

The controversy surrounding Kemi Badenoch’s speech comes just weeks after it emerged that she had an “introductory meeting” with the LGB Alliance, an anti-trans pressure group, in July 2020.