Rishi Sunak expected to scrap Tory plans for conversion therapy ban

People hold up signs reading 'Ban LGBT+ conversion therapy NOW!' and 'conversion therapy is LGBT+ abuse' as they call on the Tory government to take action

The Tory government is reportedly set to backtrack once again on banning conversion therapy, after years of failed attempts and unkept promises.

It’s been five years since Theresa May first promised to bring forward legislation banning conversion therapy. Since then, every prime minister has vowed to ban the practice, but all failed to enact a full and meaningful policy.

Now, it has been reported that Rishi Sunak is set to follow in their footsteps as his government prepares to abandon a ban on conversion therapy for LGBTQ+ people. 

According to a report by The Times, the government will announce that legislation banning conversion therapy is no longer on the table as ministers thought such protections were “problematic or ineffective in other countries”. 

Instead, the Tories will turn their energy towards crafting draft guidance that would signpost existing laws that officials think already outlaw “several aspects of conversion therapy”. 

PinkNews has contacted the government equalities office to confirm if these reports are true.

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The expected move will come as a slap in the face to those campaigning for the ban, especially considering that a bill to ban the pseudoscientific practice has reportedly been on Sunak’s desk since June. 

ITV News reported the legislation, which would cover attempts to change both a person’s sexuality and gender identity, did include a loophole as it wouldn’t prosecute individuals who conducted conversion practices on ‘consenting’ adults

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Paul Brand, an ITV news editor who’s been tracking the years-long fight to ban the practice, confirmed on X (formally known as Twitter) that it appeared the legislation had been shelved again. 

“None of my sources in or outside [government] now expect the promise to be delivered, which will be seen by many LGBT people as a real betrayal”, Brand wrote

“There are significant complexities with a ban, including navigating religious freedoms and not criminalising harmless conversations about a person’s sexuality/gender as they begin to explore such issues. 

“But primarily, the ban has been caught up in the so-called culture war.”

Christian group warns ban could ‘trample over freedom of speech’

The reported U-turn by the government comes after the Christian Institute’s director Simon Calvert claimed a ban on conversion therapy was “unnecessary, dangerous and unwanted”.

Calvert said he believes such legislation wasn’t needed because existing law protects LGBTQ+ people from “verbal and physical abuse of every kind”.

He also stated his beliefs that legislation protecting LGBTQ+ people from conversion therapy could “trample all over freedom of speech” and religious freedom. 

However, Brand said the existing laws that the government would point to “already protect against some very extreme forms” of conversion therapy, “including ‘corrective rape’” but “damaging ‘therapies’” exorcisms and “high pressure and intensive prayer” could all continue, he wrote. 

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Jayne Ozanne, chair of the Ban Conversion Therapy Coalition and director of the Ozanne Foundation, slammed the government for continually promising action and failing to deliver.

“This administration will go down in history as the most anti-LGBT government in a generation”, Ozanne wrote.

“It will take as long for LGBT+ people and our allies to trust them again – broken promises always lead to broken trust, which sadly leads to lives endangered and even tragically lost.”

Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, the Labour MP for Tooting, said the prime minister “U-turning on plans to ban conversion therapy” is a “complete insult to the LGBTQ+ community”. 

“Conversion therapy should be banned. No exceptions. No ifs. No buts,” Allin-Khan wrote on X.

Apsana Begum, the Labour MP for Poplar and Limehouse, added the plans to drop such legislation are a “betrayal of the promise to the LGBTQ+ community”

“Conversion therapy should be banned without exception,” Begum wrote. “It would protect the LGBTQ+ community and be a social good.”

The decision comes just over a year after former prime minister Boris Johnson tried to scrap the conversion therapy ban entirely. Furious backlash led to a swift U-turn, but government officials decided to only press ahead with legislation to protect lesbian, gay and bisexual people. 

In November 2022, a cross-party group of MPs urged the government to live up to its promises and ban conversion therapy for all LGBTQ+ people.

Labour MP Nia Griffith told the House that LGBTQ+ people faced “abhorrent and deeply damazing conversion therapy” every day that the government delayed the legislation.

On 14 September, campaigners gathered near the Houses of Parliament to demand Sunak finally fulfil promises to end conversion therapy. Just a few days later, activists expressed their concerns that the ban would be dropped once again after Downing Street confirmed there was no update on the legislation.

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