UK conversion therapy ban cannot have loophole for ‘consenting’ adults, campaigners tell government

A protestor holds a conversion therapy ban placard

Any UK conversion therapy ban must not include exemptions for “consenting adults” because no one can consent to psychological harm, campaigners have insisted.

On Thursday (28 October), the Ban Conversion Therapy Legal Forum, a cross-party group of MPs, peers, academics, barristers, legal professionals, campaigners, conversion therapy survivors and service providers, released a memo outlining why allowing “consenting adults” to undergo conversion therapy is unacceptable.

The forum, which created The Cooper Report, setting out recommendations to the UK government on how to effectively legislate against conversion therapy, said: “Whilst conversion practices do not always involve physical harm, the legal framework has long recognised that diagnosable psychological harm is a form of personal injury, and it is demonstrable that [conversion] practices pose a very grave risk of this kind of damage being inflicted.”

Highlighting relevant case law showing that individuals cannot freely consent to “serious injury”, the forum explained that this puts conversion therapy “outside of well-regulated ethical frameworks where capacity to consent can be assessed”.

Conversion therapy “invariably involves an imbalance of power”, whether or not the LGBT+ individual claims to consent.

In all cases of supposed “consent”, the victim believes their sexual orientation or gender identity to be wrong, and they are often “emotionally and/ or financially dependent” on the social group proposing conversion therapy as a solution, for example their family or faith group.

“This context creates an inevitable imbalance of power and pressure to acquiesce,” the forum explained, “rendering consent nugatory in the vast majority of cases.”

This means that “free and informed consent almost impossible to achieve” in the context of conversion therapy, and “therefore the case for prohibition in the public interest is overwhelming”.

Jayne Ozanne, director of the Ozanne Foundation, which commissioned the Cooper Report, told PinkNews: “As this memo makes clear, we can only be a champion of people’s rights to self-determination if we adequately safeguard people from inappropriate pressure.

“That is why the Legal Forum is stressing that consent cannot be allowed in relation to ‘conversion therapy’.

“What is more, all attempts to change, ‘cure’ or suppress a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity are by their very nature coercive as they come from a mindset that says only certain sexualities and gender identities are acceptable.”

Those undergoing conversion therapy are ‘not making a free choice’, said veteran LGBT+ rights campaigner Peter Tatchell

Signatories of the legal forum’s memo on conversion therapy and “consenting adults” included lawyers, MPs from across the political spectrum and LGBT+ campaigners.

One of these signatories was Reverend Dr Helen Hall, a lawyer, associate professor at Notthingham Trent University and Anglican priest who specialises in law surrounding religion and belief, exorcism, children and vulnerable people.

She told PinkNews: “Any ban on conversion practices which allows an exception for consent will fail to protect vulnerable people.

“Whilst some individuals are physically compelled to take part, many more walk in and apparently assent to participating, but they do so as a result of immense social, emotional and often spiritual pressure.

“Consent in these circumstances is not voluntary or informed, and treating it as such is a defeat for free choice rather than a victory.”

Veteran LGBT+ rights campaigner Peter Tatchell also signed the memo, and insisted: “If LGBT+ people are being shamed and pressured to go straight by family, religious leaders or their peers, they cannot give genuine consent to conversion therapy.

“In a state of guilt and emotional vulnerability, with the threat of adverse consequences, they are not making a free choice.”

The public consultation on legislation banning conversion therapy in the UK has been pushed back by weeks, but a launch this month has been slated by officials.