Labour MPs challenge Tories’ pathetic conversion therapy ban in crucial Queen’s Speech amendment

Protesters to descend on Westminster to demand trans conversion therapy ban

Labour MPs Nadia Whittome and Kate Osborne have put down an amendment to the Queen’s Speech to ensure everyone is protected from the abhorrent practices of so-called conversion therapy – no ifs or buts – and hope to force a crucial vote in the House of Commons. Here, for PinkNews, they explain why.

Politicians should always ask themselves which side of history they are on. It is remarkable how seldom they do. When the gay liberation movement first started, it had almost no support in the House of Commons. When queer communities came under attack from homophobes and the police, it was left to us to defend ourselves. When AIDS arrived, its victims faced stigmatisation and a wall of inertia.  

The suffering of LGBTQ+ people has been ignored and exploited by politicians for decades for the sake of expediency – because it made more sense to appease right-wing tabloids and stoke moral panic, than it did to show compassion towards the oppressed. History can and does judge them now.

As MPs who back trans rights, we feel like we are watching history repeat itself. In Britain today, about half of trans people attempt suicide before the age of 26. Many thousands are subject to bullying, abuse and discrimination. But time and time again, the Tories have chosen expediency – they have realised that they can leverage transphobia as a key talking point in the culture war.

Last week, the government officially unveiled its plans for a ban on conversion therapy, a measure it has been promising to introduce for four years now. It had only a month previously attempted to wriggle out this promise, and was only persuaded to U-turn after a public outcry, with more than a hundred organisations pulling out of its “Safe To Be Me” conference.

But while welcome, the ban won’t cover the people who need it most, because the government has made it explicit that the legislation will exclude trans people. So now conservative parents won’t be able to try to convert their child to being straight, but they will be able to hire someone to psychologically abuse their child in an attempt to stop them being trans – and this practice will be perfectly legal. It is already widespread: trans people are twice as likely as cisgender LGB people to be offered conversion therapy.

Also significantly, the proposed legislation won’t cover adults at all because, the government argues, people should be able to consent to conversion therapy. But conversion therapy isn’t a medical treatment – it’s abuse, whose foundational premise is that being LGBTQ+ is wrong. It causes serious mental health problems, and has driven some to suicide. Legalising it on the basis that people might consent to it reinforces toxic prejudices and puts people in danger and distress.

Without a full ban of conversion therapy, including in religious institutions, the abuse will continue, and that’s why we felt we have to put down an amendment to the Queen’s Speech this week. There should not be any loophole in the ban of conversion therapy; this government must legislate against every method of conversion, from corrective rape to praying with the purpose of changing the sexual or gender identity of a person.

Our amendment calls on the government to make clear that legislation to ban conversion therapy will apply to all and apply in all circumstances, ensuring that the proposed legislation covers both sexual orientation and gender identity.

In a sense, the fact that the Tories are undermining trans rights is not surprising: if they had a party motto it would probably be ‘never let basic humanity get in the way of a good vote winner’. The strategy of Boris Johnson’s Conservatives is to harness prejudice and stoke the war on woke. But that should make what is happening no less alarming, and no less a cause for anger and action.

Since 2016, hate crime has been rising again. LGBTQ+ support services have had funding slashed since the Tories came to power, and we have seen a huge reduction in real terms funding for mental health, which disproportionately impacts young LGBTQ+ people.

Thanks to the hard work of grassroots LGBTQ+ activists and campaigners, there is real progress being made in terms of public attitudes – but in terms of public discourse, it can feel like we’re going backwards. We know from numerous studies and polls that transphobes are in the minority, but that minority is hardening and it clearly has the ear of government. As casual prejudice fills the airwaves and column inches, the government’s failure to deliver a ban on conversion therapy for trans people sends a terrible message, but that then again that is exactly its purpose.

It is now up to the Speaker of the House of Commons to decide whether to select our amendment and give us the chance to force the government to back a ban on trans conversion therapy. Given that the Labour front bench, Ed Davey and Caroline Lucas have all expressed their support for a trans-inclusive ban, we are hopeful that we will get that chance. But every MP we can get to support us helps. Please write to yours immediately and ask them to back our amendment.

For more information, you can visit Ban Conversion Therapy.