“Gay conversion therapy” — the much-disputed and harmful practice that aims to force gay people into heterosexuality — will soon be banned by the British government.
It’s part of an LGBTQ action plan that UK prime minister Theresa May has promised will deliver “real and lasting change.”
The Equalities Office published the 75-point action plan on Tuesday, and announced it will receive £4.5 million in funding.
In addition to the ban, the government will also appoint an LGBT health adviser, improve police response to hate incidents, and invest in programmes that tackle homophobic, biphobic, and transphobic bullying in schools.
The practice known as gay conversion therapy is often offered by religious organisations that view homosexuality as sinful — and believe it’s something that can be “cured” through intensive psychotherapy.
But in March, the European Parliament voted to urge its member countries to ban it. The call came after Malta became the first European country to ban the practice in 2016, punishing any medical professional guilty of prescribing the therapy with a €10,000 fine or up to a year in jail.
Currently, the therapy is only illegal in nine US states — and one study estimates that 698,000 American adults have already undergone it.
Meanwhile, a 2015 report by LGBTQ rights organisation Stonewall found that 10% of British health and care staff have colleagues who believe that somebody can be “cured” of their sexual orientation.
Now, the Equalities Office will now explore legislative and non-legislative options to end the practice.
Peter Tatchell — a campaigner arrested on the first day of the World Cup in Russia for a one-man protest against the torture of gay people in Chechnya — welcomed the ban. But he also criticised the detention and deportation of LGBTQ refugees arriving in Britain after fleeing homophobic persecution, and called the £4.5 million of funding “derisory and insulting.”
'It caused me great harm ... including suicidal tendencies'#LGBTQ campaigner welcomes proposed ban on 'gay conversion therapy'.— Victoria Derbyshire (@VictoriaLIVE) July 3, 2018
Dr Michael Davidson from Core Issues Trust opposes a ban. pic.twitter.com/iK0JUxpVpH
The action plan follows the largest national survey of LGBTQ people anywhere in the world, launched in July 2017. More than 108,000 people responded, including 61% who identified as gay or lesbian. One-quarter identified as bisexual, and 13% as transgender.
Some 2% of respondents had undergone gay conversion therapy, while a further 5% said that they had been offered it.
The survey also found that two-thirds of LGBTQ people feared holding hands in public, and nearly a quarter said that somebody in the workplace had responded negatively to their being LGBTQ. Hate crimes had been experienced by 40%, while 9 in 10 serious incidents went unreported.
“We can be proud that the UK is a world leader in advancing LGBT rights, but the overwhelming response to our survey has shone a light on the many areas where we can improve the lives of LGBT people,” May said in a statement. “[I] was struck by just how many respondents said they cannot be open about their sexual orientation or avoid holding hands with their partner in public for fear of a negative reaction.”
“No one should ever have to hide who they are or who they love,” she continued. “This LGBT action plan will set out concrete steps to deliver real and lasting change across society, from health and education to tackling discrimination, and addressing the burning injustices that LGBT people face.”
More than two-thirds of LGBT people in the UK avoid holding hands in public due to fears about negative reactions, according to a government survey - true that. I've been confronted about that in Brighton - God knows how bad it must be everywhere else.— Phil Corbett (@PhilCorbett) July 3, 2018
Minister for Women and Equalities Penny Mordaunt, also the secretary of state for international development, described the survey as “critical” in an interview with Pink News.
“Some results were just, quite frankly, heartbreaking — the fact that two-thirds of respondents felt that they couldn’t hold their partner’s hand in a public place, I found really distressing,” she said. “It’s a sign that though we’ve come a long way, there’s so much more to do so that LGBT people can really thrive in the UK today.”
Mordaunt confirmed that there will also be a “radically improved” Gender Recognition Act, although this is separate from the action plan published on Tuesday.
“The current process doesn’t work for people,” Mordaunt said. “It’s overly bureaucratic and it’s highly medicalised with people making decisions about you who have never met you.”
Previously, Mordaunt has said that the responses to the LGBTQ survey would “shape the questions” for a consultation on the act. It’s long overdue; the government suggested that the consultation will be launched before parliament breaks for summer recess on July 21, a year on from the first promise made by former Women and Equalities Minister Justine Greening in July 2017.
It’s difficult and expensive to change your sex on legal documents. Trans people in the UK must first be diagnosed with gender dysphoria — and then must provide a panel, that they will never meet with, with proof that they’ve lived with that identity for at least two years. It’s expected that a reformed act would shorten the process to take weeks, not years, imitating the model in place in the Republic of Ireland.
I am extremely delighted to hear the UK give has banned conversion therapy. As gay man who had his teenage years stolen from him by #conversiontherapy, I cant say thank you enough to the #British govt— Ashiwaju Bisi Alimi (@bisialimi) July 3, 2018
It’s illegal to be gay in 72 countries worldwide — and it’s punishable by death in eight, according to the Guardian. But even in countries where same-sex relationships are permitted, gay conversion therapy still lingers.
Gay conversion therapy is illegal in Ecuador, alongside Taiwan, Brazil, and Malta. But although homosexuality has been legal there since 1997, gay people are still reportedly raped and beaten in secret clinics.
Britain is the fourth-best country in the world for LGBTQ rights, according to the ILGA-Europe Rainbow index. But the UK has fallen from the top spot on the list, due to a poorer recent performance blamed on rising transphobia in the media. But the world needs leadership — and with today’s action plan a vital step in the right direction, the UK is well placed to provide it.