Tory government’s flagship LGBT+ conference left in tatters as even more groups pull out

Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street

The British government’s landmark LGBT+ conference has been thrown into jeopardy as at least 120 groups have pulled out.

Described as the “first-ever global LGBT conference in London” by the government, Safe To Be Me: A Global Equalities Conference, is to be held in June to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the first official London Pride.

It was first announced by ministers in 2021 as a way to bring together elected officials and policy-makers to “promote the rights of LGBT people around the world”.

But now the conference has been shot with holes after the government confirmed that it will no longer be legislating a ban on trans conversion therapy, despite assurances from ministers.

The news came only hours after outlawing both gay and trans conversion therapy faced being scrapped altogether, breaking an already drawn-out campaign pledge.

The outrage following the dizzying U-turns was swift. On Monday (4 April), at least 80 of Britain’s top LGBT+ rights and HIV advocacy groups, including Stonewall and the Terrence Higgins Trust, jointly backed out from Safe To Be Me.

By Monday evening, the number increased to at least 120, according to Consortium. The umbrella group supporting the LGBT+ sector blasted the government’s “inaction over conversion practices”.

The groups have issued a joint demand: they will only take part in the conference if the government commits to banning all forms of conversion therapy.

“The UK government’s own data shows that trans people are more likely to be subjected to so-called conversion therapy, with data showing even higher risk for Black trans people,” Consortium said in a statement.

“A ban that excludes trans people is unacceptable and we as an LGBT+ sector must have our voices heard on this matter and stand as one in solidarity.”

As 120 LGBT+ groups pull out of Safe To Be Me conference, the government is ‘considering how to proceed’

A government spokesperson stressed to PinkNews that such a trans conversion therapy ban would be too “complex” and that prime minister Boris Johnson was “disappointed” by the wave of withdrawals by partners.

When asked by PinkNews whether the conference may be cancelled altogether as a result – especially considering how the event has allegedly failed to attract corporate sponsors – a government spokesperson said officials are now “considering how to proceed”.

They did not comment on the number of attendees remaining nor how many had signed up to begin with. The BBC reported that a decision on the future of Safe To Be Me will be made this week.

“It is disappointing to see partners withdraw from an international conference focused on the fundamental human rights issues facing LGBT people around the world and which provides a global platform to create positive change,” the spokesperson said.

Britain’s prime minister Boris Johnson (C) walks beneath the Pride Month installation outside Number 10. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

“The government is now considering how to proceed and will continue to work alongside global forums, including the ERC and EFPN, to convene international partners and drive forward action.”

According to the Government Equalities Office, at least four per cent of trans respondents said they have undergone conversion therapy. Nearly one in 10 reported having been offered it.

“These findings, along with some of the available international evidence, suggest that transgender people are more likely to be offered and receive conversion therapy than non-transgender people,” the office wrote in a 2021 report.

Nevertheless, Johnson’s government said it will exclude trans Britons from vital protections against trans conversion therapy.

“The UK has a proud history of LGBT rights and the prime minister has been very clear he is committed to bringing forward legislation to ban conversion therapy,” the spokesperson added.

“He has made the point emphatically that people who want to make a transition in their lives should be treated with the maximum possible generosity and respect, but the complexity of issues requires separate work to further consider transgender conversation therapy.”

Legal experts, human rights campaigners and lawmakers, however, would beg to differ. In an October report, contributors outlined a simple roadmap to banning both gay and trans conversion therapy involving criminal and civil law.

Equalities minister Liz Truss said last year that trans people should not “face the type of horrific conversion therapy that currently has been going on here in the UK”.