Tory MP Alicia Kearns warns conversion therapy ban could be hijacked to attack trans rights

A publicity photo of Conservative MP Alicia Kearns wearing a purple suit and standing in front of a blue-tinted background with the Palace of Westminster projected onto it

Conservative MP Alicia Kearns has expressed her concerns and “disappointment” that a ban on so-called conversion therapy is being used by so-called gender critics to push their backwards views on trans rights.

In January 2023, Alicia Kearns, the Tory MP for Rutland and Melton, put forward an amendment to the protecting children section of the Online Safety Bill which would have seen a block on advertising and promoting conversion therapy to those under 18-years-old.

Kearns tells PinkNews she’s faced abuse for her work trying to protect young people from “quacks and charlatans who profit off misery”, and seen some people use her proposals for an “axe they have to grind” against trans rights.

For Kearns, legislation against LGBTQ+ conversion therapy is the “one national law I have wanted to bring in since I was elected” as she believes the practices are “fundamentally wrong”.  

“Love is not a disease. Conversion therapy is not a therapy and being LGBTQ+ doesn’t need treating,” she tells PinkNews.

“I just inherently cannot stand by while people are made to feel that there is something wrong with how they feel about who they are.”

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The amendment was ultimately not included in the latest draft of the Online Safety Bill – which is currently undergoing its second reading in the House of Lords – but Kearns saw it as an opportunity to show a “demonstrative display of support” for a ban on conversion therapy practices. 

The support Kearns received from fellow MPs across the political spectrum has “allowed” the government to “have conversations” with her about bringing in the long-delayed legislation. 

On 17 January 2023, the secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport, Michelle Donelan, announced the government would publish a draft bill setting out a proposed approach to banning conversion practices for all members of the LGBTQ+ community.

However, in context of the divisive political landscape around the rights of trans people, Kearns has been left “disappointed” that some people are using the conversion therapy ban as an “opportunity” to “progress the discussions they want to have about trans rights”. 

She emphasises the legislation is about prosecuting “quacks and charlatans who profit off misery, bigotry and torture” and is not “trying to criminalise parents” or “stop people having freedom of speech”. 

“What we need to be really careful about, is that I don’t want people to abuse the conversion therapy law to progress their own axe they have to grind around transgender rights and legislation.

“People need to recognise that what I’m trying to do has very limited and specific protections,” she says.

News of the fully trans-inclusive ban came at the same time as the government announced it would block the landmark Scottish gender reform bill. 

The bill, which would have made it easier for trans people to update their birth certificates, was passed in Holyrood in December but was subsequently vetoed by the UK government in an unprecedented move using Section 35 of the Scotland Act.

The MP has faced abuse

Speaking candidly with PinkNews, the MP speaks of the abuse she’s received about the inclusive conversion therapy bill from people who have accused her of “trying to trans away the gay” and saying she does not want to protect children. 

The bone of contention for transphobes being that the ban would stop organisations and individuals from being able to try and prevent trans people from being trans.

“This is about protecting people from charlatans and making sure that anyone who goes to seek advice is always getting it from accredited and regulated individuals,” she explains.

“I just wish people would take a step back and realise that this is something that is inherently good and can be done in the right way to protect people. 

“We haven’t seen conversion therapy bills around the world cause problems.”

A ban on conversion therapy has been a long time coming

The notable part of the conversion therapy bill is that Donelan said the forthcoming legislation will “protect everyone”, including trans people who were previously omitted from a proposed ban. 

Legislation to stamp out vile conversion therapy practices comes nearly five years after the government originally pledged to outlaw it.  

The Tories first promised to stamp out the abusive practices under Theresa May’s premiership in 2018. 

Following May’s resignation, Boris Johnson’s government was left to handle the process of drafting a bill banning the practice, publishing a consultation in 2021.

However, Johnson announced in March 2022 that he was dropping plans to draft the bill but following public outcry, the government swiftly made a U-turn and vowed to implement the ban – although controversially not for transgender and non-binary people.