Labour MP Nadia Whittome: Tory conversion therapy U-turns are a plot to divide our LGBT+ community

Labour MP Nadia Whittome backed the Labour Campaign for Trans Rights

Nadia Whittome, Labour MP for Nottingham East, explains why Boris Johnson is playing a “game of divide-and-rule” with conversion therapy.

For four years, the Conservative government has consistently promised that conversion therapy for LGBT+ people will be banned. That was until last week, when it performed not one, but two U-turns.

First it was leaked that the ban would be ditched completely, but after pushback from across the political spectrum, including from some of its own MPs, the Tory party retreated. The new position is now that the government will ban conversion therapy for cisgender gay, lesbian and bisexual people, but not trans people.

This move aims to divide our LGBT+ community and represents another cynical attempt to create a ‘culture war’ between different groups. But why now?

Liz Truss and Boris Johnson

Liz Truss and Boris Johnson. (Getty)

The cost-of-living crisis is currently unfolding, plunging millions of people into poverty because they cannot keep up with rising prices and sky-high energy bills. The government is under severe pressure and doing badly in the polls, so it is looking for an easy target to deflect anger and attention.

This is why, with the help of supportive media, it is creating an increasingly hostile environment in which trans people are constantly singled out and demonised. They have spent the last week bringing up genitalia and making jokes at trans people’s expense to distract from political failure.

Patriarchal violence, our economic system and government policies are oppressing women – cis and trans. These should be the common enemy,

By blaming trans people, the government is also able to avoid scrutiny for its own policies. Anti-trans activists are platformed to spout hateful messages, often under the guise of standing up for women. But the reality is that patriarchal violence, our economic system and government policies are oppressing women – cis and trans. These should be the common enemy, not trans people

Rowing-back on the plan to ban conversion is part of the same pattern. The Conservatives’ decision plays into the narrative that vulnerable people, especially young people, can fall victim to an agenda to “turn” people trans. They say that medical professionals are too quick to offer hormone therapy and surgery to those diagnosed with gender dysphoria, without giving them space to think about it.

A protestor seen holding a placard that says 'lesbians for trans rights' during a protest in London

A protestor seen holding a placard that says ‘lesbians for trans rights’ during a protest in London. (Belinda Jiao/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty)

This has no bearing on reality. Instead, trans people currently have to face long waiting times – up to five years – and bureaucratic hurdles before they can access specialist health care. Conversion therapy, meanwhile, is not about supporting people as they explore their gender identity – it is abuse. It can cause serious mental health problems for those who undergo it. It has driven people to suicide. And trans people are twice as likely to have been offered conversion therapy than those who are cisgender and gay or bi.

Stoking this hostility also has devastating consequences. Four in five trans people have been victims of a hate crime. One in four have experienced or been threatened with physical assault. But the government and the media do not care about the truth or the damage done to minority groups.

We have seen it time and time again when it comes to immigration: migrants are regularly blamed for falling wages, for an overstretched NHS and lack of housing in local communities. What the government does not want us to see is that these problems are all connected to its own austerity policies. If we fight one another, instead of turning our fire against those who are really responsible, we let them get away with it.

So all of us in the LGBT+ community must continue to stand with trans people and not play into the government’s game of divide-and-rule. That is why I am pleased that more than 100 LGBT+ and HIV organisations have pulled out of the government’s international LGBT+ conference in protest.

We must build real solidarity among all of us who are at the sharp end of the discrimination that our political and economic system is built on. The only way we win is if we win together.