Netherlands could be next country to ban ‘medieval’ conversion therapy while UK twiddles its thumbs

A protestor holds a conversion therapy ban placard

Two coalition parties have proposed a bill to criminalise conversion therapy in the Netherlands.

Under the proposed bill, people providing ‘conversion therapy’ for LGBT+ people could be penalised with fines of up to €22,500 and a year of imprisonment.

The bill appears to have majority support in the Dutch parliament, as it is being sponsored by two coalition parties, D66 (Democrats 66) and VVD (People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy), and several left-wing opposition parties have also declared their support for the bill, including GroenLinks (GreenLeft), SP (the Socialist Party) and PvdD (the Labour Party).

Despite being the first nation to legalise gay marriage in 2001, the Netherlands has struggled to legislate a ban on conversion therapy. In 2019, Dutch MPs demanded a ban on conversion therapy, however the cabinet wanted to conduct more research on the issue before committing to policy. At the time, ministers prefered creating a code of conduct for religious organisations, rather than legislating an outright ban.

Whilst the Netherlands is known for its progressive attitudes towards LGBT+ people, conversion therapy still persists in some communities. A 2020 report found that there are around 15 conversion therapy providers in Netherlands, most of which are linked to religious communities.

The report found cases of conversion therapy being organised through holiday camps and workshops, “in which a non-heterosexual orientation is regarded as problematic and attempts are made to ‘remedy’ this.” Furthermore, a questionnaire by the Dutch health ministry found that almost a third of LGBT+ people surveyed had experienced conversion therapy.

Dutch MP Jeanet van der Laan declared: “Medieval practices like conversion therapy do not belong in the Netherlands.” She added: “Homosexuality is not wrong and certainly nothing you should be cured of.”

LGBT+ advocacy group COC has expressed its support for the bill. “Being yourself is not a disease, let no one ever tell you you have to be ‘cured’ from it. LGBTQI healing is a myth, it destroys people. You are good the way you are,” stated their chair, Astrid Oosenbrug.

In 1999, Brazil became the first country to ban conversion therapy. In the following decades many countries followed suit, including Taiwan, India and Malta.

In 2018, the British government pledged to ban conversion therapy, however progress has been slow. In October 2021, the government opened a six-week consultation on the ban. However, the process was delayed as the government extended the consultation by the further eight weeks in December 2021, to 4 February. The Tories, having already spent the best part of fours years teasing a ban, are yet to lay out next steps.

Campaigners have criticised the proposed ban for “falling short” of what is needed to be effective, as a “loophole” for “religious counselling” would permit some forms of faith-based conversion therapy to continue being practised.