Protestors warn government has ‘run out of time’ to fulfil vow to ban conversion therapy
Campaigners gathered near the Houses of Parliament on Thursday (14 September) to protest against the government’s lack of action on its promised conversion therapy ban, with many saying time has run out to stop the cruel practice.
Campaigners, led by LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall, demanded that prime minister Rishi Sunak fulfils his promise to bring an end to the practice.
Stonewall delivered more than 2,000 postcards – as part of its campaign criticising the prime minister over the continued delay – and read a few out at the protest, detailing the devastation conversion therapy causes LGBTQ+ people.
The government previously vowed to outline plans to MPs, who would then scrutinise and refine the bill, in time for the King’s Speech on 7 November.
Conversion therapy refers to efforts to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity in a bid to “cure” them.
But, despite promises of the draft bill, Sunak’s family summer holiday in California – where conversation therapy is banned – further delayed progress as paperwork sat on his desk for weeks.
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It’s thought the “pre-legislative scrutiny” process of the bill could take about six weeks. With parliament due to break on 19 September for party conference season, and not due to sit again until mid-October, it is now unlikely to meet the deadline.
The leader of the House of Commons, Penny Mordaunt, has refused to repeat the government’s previous promise, despite committing to it in a letter to MPs, which PinkNews has seen, in March.
On Thursday (14 September), during business questions to the Leader of the House, Liberal Democrat MP Wera Hobhouse asked if the bill would be ready in time for the King’s Speech. Mordaunt avoided giving an answer but said that conversion therapy was an “abhorrent practice”.
Ban Conversion Therapy Coalition chairperson, Jayne Ozanne, told PinkNews: “We’re here today in anger and frustration at the government’s complete failure to commit to any legislation to ban these abusive practices.”
She accused the government of “broken promises” and “moral failure”, adding that “time has run out”, with a five-year wait bringing no results.
“We were told that draft legislation would be completed by 7 November, we know that is no longer possible, but they refuse to say why they are delaying.
“History will not judge you kindly. LGBTQ+ people deserve respect, but, most of all, protection and we need you to act,” she said in a message to Sunak.
Robbie de Santos, the director of communications and external affairs at Stonewall, told PinkNews: “It’s really important that this ban doesn’t get lost in that post-holiday laundry. Our community absolutely needs that bill to be coming through right now. Enough is enough.”
Speaking to PinkNews, lesbian Labour MP Angela Eagle said: “The ban on conversion therapy is long overdue. We’ve been promised it for over five years now, still the bill has not appeared, despite this government saying that they were in favour of it.
“They’ve let the time run out as we move towards the next election.”
Pansexual Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran said she is campaigning for all of those who are “harmed by this disgusting practice”.
She added: “A ban should’ve been in place years ago. Rishi Sunak should hang his head in shame.”
And Luke Dowding, the chief executive of Christian charity OneBodyOneFaith, which advocates for change within the Church, said: “Waiting over five years is not good enough. We work with victims and survivors of this abuse and we see the real harm that is experienced day-to-day because of conversion therapy.”
Meanwhile, Paul Levene, from trans organisation TransLucent, learnt about trans issues from his transgender daughter.
“I discovered there was so much misinformation and hate around trans. We hope when the ban finally comes through, it will include trans people,” he said.
Alavari Jeevathol, the national co-ordinator for Young Humanists UK, said: “It seems that Rishi has been relaxing and overlooking serious human rights abuses that are going on in families, neighbourhoods and religious communities all over the UK.”
Along with all the other activists, he called on the government to address the delay and publish the draft bill as soon as possible.
Following the protest, shadow women and equalities minister Anneliese Dodds promised that Labour would ban conversion therapy in full if the party wins the next general election.
The delayed ban is thought to be inclusive of trans people, but it’s understood the bill contains a loophole for “consenting adults”, despite experts and advocates warning the government that such a clause could render the legislation useless.
The Conservative government first promised a ban in 2018 under Theresa May’s leadership, but despite her insistence on trans-inclusive legislation, Boris Johnson later opted to push forward with a law that only protected gay, lesbian and bisexual people.
In February 2020, at the Government Equalities Office LGBT Leadership Summit, equalities minister Baroness Williams re-iterated the government’s commitment to end conversion therapy.
“I remain shocked that this is practised at all in the modern world,” she said. “The government is committed to ending [it] for good.
“LGBT people are not broken, they are not ill. They don’t need to be fixed and they don’t need to be cured.”
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