As Conservatives, our calling card must be the defence of individual freedoms. Surely, we must all believe that it is better when individuals have as much liberty to define for themselves their own happiness, so long as it is done within the bounds of a stable, law-abiding society?
LGBTQ+ so called conversion therapy is utterly incompatible with that vision, which is why I have campaigned to end it.
I want to take a look at some of the arguments being made against this Bill, and hopefully demonstrate why ultimately what we all need is to take the heat out of this discussion, get the facts right, and a good shot of empathy on all sides.
1) The practice is ‘already illegal’?
Campaigners against a ban cite the fact that physical torture is already illegal, making a ban superfluous. It’s universally recognised in clinical professions that mental health is as important as physical health (including in legislation) – and therefore suffering can be psychological.
A specific ban on forms of conversion therapy that aren’t necessarily forms of physical torture is needed. The State, police, courts and civil society bodies are better able to address the issue when a specific statutory framework is spelled out, similar to how a framework was needed to address female genital mutilation.
A ban will also send a very explicit message, making it harder for people in positions of trust to abuse vulnerable people, and protecting potential victims before abuse occurs.
2) Conversion therapy is not happening?
Maya Forstater’s piece on this site specifically stated there is no recent evidence of Conversion Therapy in the UK. This is wrong. I have been in contact with many therapists and regulatory organisations, all of whom still regularly see patients scarred by conversion ‘therapy’.
What is more, I would encourage anyone attacking this ban with this argument to meet many of the survivors I have met: people in their 20s, 30s and yes, the 70 year olds still living with the impact of this abuse. Do not silence victims with your prejudice, to do so causes enormous harm.
3) An attack on religious freedom?
I would not support efforts to police private prayer, and that’s not what’s being proposed. A ban on conversion therapy must not infringe on practice of religion or religious belief.
Many opponents of a ban on conversion therapy cite religious freedom in their arguments. However, these arguments do not wash, given that mainstream religion in this country – former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Rowan Williams, The Right Reverend John Sentamu, former Archbishop of York and Steve Chalke, Baptist Minister and Canon at Southwark Cathedral, as well as representatives of Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Sikhism and any other major faith you care to mention – all back a ban. The Church of England has not requested any opt-out from a ban.
Religious liberty, a fundamental right, must so too is the right of every person to be free of torture and other forms of degrading treatment. As we would not accept a religiously based argument for FGM, so we should not accept a religious argument for forms of therapy (as distinct from prayer) that are clinically discredited and found to cause long-term psychological damage.
We must protect conversations between a religious leader and a member of their flock, but also provide recourse to justice against those who abuse their positions of trust.
4) Will the Bill legislate for affirmative-only therapy?
It does not, and it must not. Conversion Therapy often takes the form of one-directional talking therapies, more often than not conducted by quacks in unregulated settings. Regulated psychotherapists and similar professions have always, while pushing for a ban, also insisted that exploratory therapy should not and must not prescribe a specific outcome, to the therapy, which is in fact what conversion therapy does.
What our children deserve, and need, is to have fully explorative, challenging and critical conversations with accredited and regulated individuals such as GPs and psychologists. Those who actually adhere to ethical tests set out by the counselling and psychotherapy profession and won’t push pre-determined outcomes (in either direction!).
A regulated therapist would never say that someone must act on their attractions or that they must eliminate them. Surely we can all agree on that?
Some claim gay and lesbian people are being forced to “convert” into a transgender person. This legislation would help them, by ensuring critical conversations take place by professionals, and not the well-meaning. Critical conversations before medical interventions.
5) Would a ban criminalise mental health practitioners?
Representatives of organisations such as the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the British Psychological Society, the Albany Trust, Royal College of General Practitioners, Association for Christian Counsellors and many more stand behind a ban.
Conversion therapy has been thoroughly rejected by the psychiatric and psychological profession precisely because it is the opposite of an open-ended exploration with difficult conversations throughout.
It is rather a ‘therapy’ where there is only one objective and end point: stopping someone from being gay or from being trans. Conversion therapy is not about keeping choices but eliminating them completely.
Mental health practitioners back this legislation. It’s not going to criminalise them, nor teachers or others who support children to have open and challenging discussions.
6) Gender identity, language, sports rules and shared toilets
This ban is not about any of these things, despite how hard others are pushing to resolve grievances – some legitimate.
This legislation doesn’t need to define gender identity in legislation (noting we already have the Gender Recognition Act and hate crime legislation that acknowledges transgender people). Stonewall isn’t demanding it does, and has publicly said the ban doesn’t need to define gender identity or introduce it into law, so who is this ‘lobby’ that everyone argues is trying to introduce gender identity into law?
It’s also not about another woke frontier for those who want to suppress freedom of speech. Women aren’t ‘people with cervixes’. We’re women. I don’t chest feed. I breast feed my baby. This isn’t a backdoor effort to criminalise dissent from gender ideology.
7) Is the ban being rushed?
No. This is far from a rushed job, but an important piece of legislation many years in the making. There was a survey of over 100,000 LGBTQ+ people in 2017-18, a debate in Parliament, now there is a consultation, and then there will be much debate in Parliament and a vote by Parliamentarians.
So why do we need to ban conversion therapy?
Call me old fashioned, but the first duty of responsible government should be to protect its people, and that means everyone. Conversion therapy is about a person of trust suppressing and subverting someone’s sexuality or gender identity to such an extent that mental damage is almost inevitable, and physical damage all too frequent. It is done without any scientific or therapeutic evidence whatsoever, and about exorcising an integral part of our self-identity.
This is not about pandering to the woke crowd. This is about punishing practices that leave real and enduring psychological and physical scars, and holding accountable those willing to perpetrate and often profit from misery.
The only people who have to fear a ban on conversion therapy are quacks and charlatans who profit off misery, bigotry, and torture. Let’s protect our children and leave the real professionals to do their jobs.
This article originally appeared on Conservative Home on 7th December 2021