Theresa May warns UK risks ‘sliding back’ on LGBTQ+ rights amid trans conversion therapy failure

Theresa May in a House of Commons room lined with portraits

Theresa May has warned that Britain is at risk of “sliding back” if the government does not ban trans conversion therapy.

The former prime minister urged the government to legislate an inclusive ban at the PinkNews Westminster Summer Reception on Wednesday (13 July).

Speaking exclusively to PinkNews, she said that the 2017 National LGBT Survey showed that “there were many people who felt more comfortable in being open about who they were”.

“So we could see that the country had moved on,” May said. “But, sadly, there were some people who didn’t feel so comfortable. There were some issues that people raised.

“It was important then that we responded to that survey and I just want to see the government looking at this issue in relation to trans conversion therapy.

“And I don’t want to see the government sliding back. I think much has been achieved over the last 50 years since the first Pride march, but there is more to do.”

The future of the conversion therapy ban hangs in the balance as the Tories work out who should replace Boris Johnson as party leader and prime minister.

Mike Freer, who stood down as equalities minister in response to Johnson’s handling of the Chris Pincher scandal, said during a speech that the “four front-runners” in the leadership contest had given him reassurance that would “support a fully inclusive ban on conversion therapy”.

He was one of several speakers on the night. MPs, activists and others also heard from Freer’s successor, Amanda Solloway, who said the government is “considering how best to tackle transgender conversion therapy in a way that doesn’t negatively impact the legitimate support” available for trans people.

Veteran LGBTQ+ rights campaigner Peter Tatchell interrupted Solloway’s speech as she boasted about the government’s work to resettle LGBTQ+ Afghan refugees.

Tatchell said: “You’ve actually refused to settle hundreds who have applied to your government for permission to settle here.

“They’ve been vetted and approved by Afghan LGBT+ groups and your government has refused to help. I know you’re a good person, but can I please ask for you to take that back to the Foreign Commonwealth Office.”

The Tory party’s track record on LGBTQ+ rights faced further scrutiny from Labour’s Anneliese Dodds. The shadow secretary of state for women and equalities said she has seen “too much rolling back” when the nation needs to be “moving forward”.

After all, the UK was once number one in a ranking of the most LGBTQ-friendly places in Europe in 2014 – now it has plummeted to 14th.

“We can ban all forms of conversion therapy,” she stressed during her speech, “not excluding trans people.”

Among the government’s other critics at the reception were pansexual Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran, Labour’s shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper and Scottish National Party (SNP) MP John Nicolson.

Nicolson blasted the LGBTQ+ Tory MPs he has spoken with who have sought to positively spin many of Johnson’s anti-LGBTQ+ gaffes.

He said: “Some tell me that they will miss Boris Johnson. His heart is in the right place they say. His description of gay men as ‘tank topped bum boys‘ was merely an affectionate nod to his play dates at Eton.

“I’m not so sure. I’ve certainly been worried about the unleashing of culture wars under his administration – the most recent manifestation of which has been the decision to drop a manifesto commitment to ban trans conversion therapy abuse.”

Nicolson praised the Scottish government for its unwavering commitment to ban all forms of the pseudoscientific practice.

But it is not just the government’s handling of conversion therapy that draws criticism.

Queer asylum seekers are facing deportation to anti-LGBTQ+ Rwanda as part of the government’s new immigration pact with the central African nation, noted Sebastian Rocca, the CEO of Micro Rainbow, a non-profit which supports queer asylum seekers and refugees.

Rocca said the charity’s service users are “petrified” to be sent to Rwanda.

“It saddens and angers us that the focus of this new legislation seems to be on how people come to the UK, not ‘why’, and again, the focus is on ‘when’ they claim asylum and not ‘why’,” Rocca said.

The PinkNews Westminster Summer Reception was sponsored by Gilead Sciences and Micro Rainbow as a charity partner.