Dozens of the UK’s most influential public figures have signed an open letter calling on the British government for a “truly effective ban on conversion therapy for all lesbian, gay, bi, trans, and gender diverse people in the UK.”
The letter, addressed to Women and Equalities Minister Liz Truss and published on July 9, was signed by an extraordinary range of people, from actors, musicians, and novelists, to MPs, charity representatives, activists, and faith leaders.
Conversion therapy is the pseudo-medical or religious practice of trying to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity to heterosexual or cisgender (non-transgender). It occurs in nearly every country in the world, and has been linked to higher risks of depression, suicide, and drug addiction.
Among the signatories were some of the world’s leading entertainers, including musicians and bands like Olly Alexander from Years and Years, Wolf Alice, Shamir Bailey, Rachel Chinouriri, Clairo, Dodie, Sam Fender, Elton John, Due Lipa, Tom Odell, Rina Sawayama, Little Mix’s Jade Thirlwall, Paul Weller, and Charli XCX, and many others.
These were joined by actor Alan Cumming, Stephen Fry, trans activist Munroe Bergdorf, comedians Katherine Ryan and Mae Martin, and faith leaders; as well as representatives from charities and foundations such as Amnesty International UK, Mermaids, All-Out, Stonewall, the Terrence Higgins Trust, UK Age, UK Black Pride, Ozanne Foundation, the Albert Kennedy Trust, and the Peter Tatchell Foundation.
All major UK medical and psychotherapy organisations have rejected the controversial practice, including signing a Memorandum of Understanding on Conversion Therapy in both 2015 and 2017, the purpose of which was “the protection of the public through a commitment to ending the practice of ‘conversion therapy’ in the UK.”
The open letter cited a description of conversion therapy from the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims as “torture.” Meanwhile, the UN has also called for an end to conversion therapy globally.
In 2018, then Prime Minister Theresa May vowed to eradicate the “abhorrent” practice in Britain and, says the letter, “since then the British public has been waiting expectantly, not least the LGBTQ+ community.”
“The government has said recently that conversion therapy is complex, which it undoubtedly is, and although we acknowledge this issue is nuanced, we strongly believe that effective legislation, supported by a programme of work to help tackle these practices in all their forms, is possible,” the letter continues.
“Any form of counselling or persuading someone to change their sexual orientation or behaviour so as to confirm with a heteronormative lifestyle, or their gender identity, should be illegal, no matter the reason, religious or otherwise — whatever the person’s age,” it adds.
The letter went on to highlight the mental health issues that disproportionately impact the LGBTQ+ community — including the fact that people who are LGBTQ+ are twice as likely to consider suicide than non-LGBTQ+ people.
“And conversion therapy only increases this risk,” it added.
According to the government’s National LGBT Survey, the letter adds, one in seven trans people have been offered services to stop them being trans.
It goes on to highlight the “demonising” of trans people in the UK, as well as the “dangerous suggestion that trans health care should be prevented on the basis that it is itself a form of conversion therapy.”
“The issue of conversion therapy will not be remedied by questioning trans people and trans youth, who are already a particularly vulnerable group,” it added.
The UK has recently seen a renewed conversation about trans rights — partly sparked by comments from author J.K. Rowling that implied the movement for trans rights was an attack on women’s rights.
“Let’s end it now,” the letter concluded, adding that signatories would welcome the opportunity to meet with Truss or her officials to discuss the issue in more detail. “Let’s finish what was pledged two years ago and ban conversion therapy for all lesbian, gay, bi, trans, and gender diverse people, of all ages. Until you do, torture will continue to take place on British soil.”
Meanwhile, the UK’s LGBTQ+ community is also waiting to hear back on reforms to the 2004 Gender Recognition Act — another pledge by Theresa May’s government, announced in 2017.
The pledge sparked a widespread public consultation on potential changes, including on whether the trans people could "self-identify", instead of going through an arduous, expensive process of officially changing their gender. But although 70% of the 100,000 surveyed favoured reform, the results were dismissed by the government in June.
It's now expected that plans to allow trans people to change their gender without a medical diagnosis will be officially scrapped in the next few days.
If you’re based in the UK and would like support with mental health, you can find resources collated by the NHS here. If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the Samaritans for free at any time, from any phone, on 116 123. You can find international resources here.