OPINION: No more loopholes: We urgently need a complete ban for conversion practices

by Iesha Palmer | Mermaids UK
Wednesday, 25 January 2023 13:38 GMT

Participants take part in the annual Pride London Parade, which highlights issues of the gay, lesbian and transgender community, in London, Britain June 25, 2016. REUTERS/Neil Hall

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Gaps in the government’s current conversion therapy proposals mean vulnerable trans people will still be left at risk

Iesha Palmer is Campaigns Officer at Mermaids.

Louie was 19 at the time of his so-called “conversion therapy” experience.

A respected member of the church, his world was turned upside down when a senior member of the congregation discovered he was in a same-sex relationship.

Terrified of losing his community, Louie “begged God” to save him from his “queer thoughts”. He was persuaded to attend “healing” camps for LGBTQIA+ Christians - and even experienced exorcisms.

And yet, because of loopholes in the UK Government’s current proposals, he wouldn’t be protected by a ban on conversion practices.

Louie, like so many other trans people subjected to these cruel acts, was left broken and unrecognisable. It has taken him more than a decade to pick up the pieces and heal from this trauma.

That’s because conversion practices are abuse. Studies show they can result in long-term depressive symptoms, post-traumatic stress, increased suicidality and substance misuse, with trans people at greater risk than their cis lesbian, gay, and bisexual counterparts.

Earlier this month, after years of ambiguity, broken promises, U-turns and delays, the Government reversed its decision to exclude trans people from a ban on conversion practices in England and Wales.

Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan announced the Government would publish a draft Bill to be scrutinised by a committee of parliamentarians.

This is of course welcome news, but concerns remain. Particularly as there are potential holes in the legislation, with the Government stating that a ban “must not, through a lack of clarity, harm the growing number of children and young adults experiencing gender-related distress, through inadvertently criminalising or chilling legitimate conversations parents or clinicians may have with their children”.

There is a wealth of evidence which shows giving children autonomy over their presentation, such as using a name, or pronouns or wearing clothing that matches their gender identity, can be a very affirming experience with substantial benefits for their mental well-being, even if they do not go on to transition later in life.

We know how harmful it is when young people are denied the agency regularly afforded to cisgender young people who may choose to experiment with their presentation, and discrimination and abuse remain an everyday reality for many LGBTQIA+ people, especially trans people who continue to experience hate and discrimination, facing attacks in all aspects of their lives.

Hate crime charity Galop reported a “staggering 56 per cent increase” in hate crimes targeting trans people in 2021-2022 and we’ve seen a string of trans sports bans and restrictions in the last two years, impacting not only elite athletes but also school children and grassroots youth sports.

Recent attempts by the Government to block Gender Recognition Reform in Scotland demonstrate the lengths politicians will go to railroad progressive steps towards trans equality while contributing to the hostile environment trans people are forced to live in in the UK. More than ever, trans young people need comprehensive protections without any further delay.

It’s been almost five years since the Government promised to ban conversion practices. We can’t wait this long to get it wrong.

That’s why we call on the Government to introduce a complete and comprehensive ban on conversion practices recognising that you can’t consent to abuse. The ban must include religious and healthcare settings, and must not leave trans people behind.

Let’s protect those most at risk. No more delays. No more excuses. No more loopholes. No more stories like Louie’s.

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