Activists blast Tory conversion therapy consent loophole: ‘This will cost many lives’

Activists hold a sign reading "ban conversion therapy for all."

Activists are describing the government’s drafted conversion therapy ban bill as ‘meaningless’, after it was revealed that consensual practices would remain legal if it passes into law.

A report from ITV News revealed that a draft bill ending the harmful practices had reached prime minister Rishi Sunak’s desk after five years of consultation.

It found the bill included conversion therapy related to both sexuality and gender identity after concerns were addressed following Boris Johnson’s decision to remove transgender people from the ban proposed by Theresa May in 2018.

But the bill reportedly now contains a consent clause which means those who consent to being subjected to the harmful practices would be able to do so legally.

Conversion therapy refers to abusive practices that aim to forcefully change a person’s sexuality and gender identity, which is impossible. In the UK, most conversion therapy is faith-based.

LGBTQ+ activist and conversion therapy survivor Jayne Ozanne told PinkNews she believed the bill was so flawed that efforts to see a comprehensive bill over the past five years had been “utterly in vain.”

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“The proposed legislation will have a loophole so large to render it meaningless,” she said.

“The government has constantly prioritised listening to the voices of perpetrators rather than those of victims.

“I myself willingly consented to nearly 20 years of ‘conversion therapy’ and it nearly killed me. I am one of the fortunate ones who survived. Others tragically have not.”

She added that the government’s approach and its silence on the process of writing the bill was “appalling.”

“What is so appalling is that this government remains deaf to our voices, based on our lived experience, as well as those of some of our country’s leading international human rights lawyers.

“Mark my words, this will continue to cost many lives,” she continued.

Rishi Sunak walking out the door of Number 10.
Activists are condemning a consent clause that would allow consensual conversion therapy to take place. (Getty)

The idea of a consent loophole first appeared in 2021 after a proposal by the government, led at the time by Boris Johnson, suggested that one could be added.

At the time, the government said its definition of consent would be “robust and stringent,” relying on the Sexual Offences Act 2003, which defines it as a person “agreeing by choice and has the freedom and capacity to make that choice”.

Associate director of communications for StonewallUK, Sasha Misra, told PinkNews that no comprehensive conversion therapy ban could have a consent clause.

“We will welcome the publication of the Bill in the days to come, which will represent an important step towards finally ending the ongoing harm caused to LGBTQ+ people by attempts to change, ‘cure’ or suppress their sexuality or gender identity.

“However, we are alarmed by reports that the ban will include a ‘consent clause’,” she continued.

“We must be clear that conversion therapy is abuse, and while it is easy to see why someone might volunteer for conversion therapy after being told by people they trust or love that being LGBTQ+ is fundamentally wrong, such consent is neither meaningful nor genuine.

“It is simple – no legislation will be workable and effective if it contains loopholes that enable abuse to continue, whether for consent, medical settings or any other carve-outs.”

A spokesperson for the government equality hub said in a statement that it was “committed” to protecting people at risk of conversion therapy.

“As part of this we will publish a draft bill setting out our approach, which will be scrutinised by a Joint Committee of both Houses in this parliamentary session.

“This will allow for in-depth analysis and challenge to test the policy and drafting and ensure we address any risk of unintended impacts.”