“What we need now is the action”: the UK government’s pledge to ban so-called conversion therapy in the UK

“What we need now is the action”: the UK government’s pledge to ban so-called conversion therapy in the UK

(content warning: this article contains an emotionally distressing account from a conversion therapy survivor)

What’s just happened?

On Monday March 8th, members of parliament met in-person and virtually at Westminster Hall in what was termed a “hybrid debate”, addressing calls from a long-running petition for the government to ban so-called conversion therapy in the UK. [[1]] The debate comes as three advisers resign from the government's LGBTQ+ advisory panel amid concern the government is being “too slow in bringing in legislation”. [[2]]

What does this mean?

Brazil, Ecuador, Germany and Malta are the only countries in the world with complete bans on so-called “conversion therapies”, which are pseudo-scientific interventions that are supposedly able to change an individual’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity. [[3]]These malignly termed “therapies” can involve pseudo-psychological treatments, aversion therapies, or practices that are religiously based, for example fasting or purification. At the most severe, there has been evidence that this practice can also involve physical and sexual violence, which can include so-called corrective rape. [[4]]

Here in the UK, the practice of so-called conversion therapy has been met with widespread condemnation. Efforts to introduce a ban has included a memorandum signed in 2017 by NHS England and 12 additional health and psychotherapy bodies, charities and organisations which denounced conversion therapies as “unethical and potentially harmful”. [[5]] Led by Jayne Ozanne, a former government equality advisor, the Church of England also passed a motion condemning so-called conversion therapy in 2017 by calling on the Government for a complete ban, “a call that has now been echoed by over 370 global religious leaders and organisations”. [[6]] In addition, the UK Government committed to bring forward proposals to ban conversion therapy in the national LGBT action plan of 2018, which has repeatedly gone unanswered by the government until now.

“We are not talking about harmful practices that occurred some time ago; this is happening today, here in the UK, right now” – Elliot Colburn

During the debate, conservative MP Elliot Colburn read aloud some horrific accounts from survivors of so-called conversion therapy:

“at 17, Carolyn confided in her local vicar her feelings of self-hatred and depression, and her suicidal thoughts, because she did not feel like a boy. Her vicar took her to a doctor and a psychiatric hospital, where Carolyn was strapped to a wooden chair in a dark room. As images of women’s clothing were projected on to the wall in front of her, doctors would deliver painful electric shocks, hoping to associate the feelings of being a woman with memories of intense pain. As with Joe and Josh, that experience remains with Carolyn to this day”. [[7]]

The evidence is clear. So-called conversion therapy does not work, and there is no scientific basis that exists for its practice. The long-awaited ban of pseudo-scientific “therapies” that have been declared torture under Human Rights Act Article 3 should not have been up for debate in the first place, nor is the ban a “complex issue” as repeatedly stated by Boris Johnson. [[8]] [[9]]

How does this affect the legal sector?

In line with the recommendations outlined in a report published in 2020 by the United Nations, a ban on so-called conversion therapy must cover both the “public and the private spheres and all forms of intervention, no matter what they might be, whether that be healthcare, religious, cultural or traditional”. [[10]] It is also essential that the ban should protect and aid children, adults, and individuals who have been either coerced or who have themselves consented to conversion therapy practices. In addition, the ban must include:

  • Clearly defining the prohibited practices
  • Ensuring public funds are not used to support them
  • Banning advertisements
  • Prohibiting such interventions in healthcare, religious, education, community, commercial or any other setting—public or private
  • Establishing punishments for non-compliance, and investigate respective claims
  • Creating mechanisms to provide access to all forms of reparations to victims [[11]]

It is necessary also for the ban to include the “sending, or the threatening to send someone, overseas to undergo so-called conversion therapies”. [[12]] It is essential that the ban covers “degrading and inhumane interventions aimed at changing anyone’s sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression”, and should fully protect all LGBTQ+ people. [[13]


The Legists Content Team

[1] ‘LGBT Conversion Therapy’ (UK Parliament) https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2021-03-08/debates/552D6176-C4D5-47F1-A8C1-C900B58AEB7C/LGBTConversionTherapy

[2] ‘Act now on LGBT+ conversion therapy, ministers urged’ (BBC News, March 12th, 2021)

[3] Jamie Wareham, ‘This is where LGBTQ “conversion therapy” is illegal’ (Forbes, March 8th, 2021)

[4] Ibid

[5] ‘Memorandum of understanding of conversion therapy in the UK, version 2’ (BACP, October 2017) https://www.bacp.co.uk/media/2274/memorandum-of-understanding-v2-oct17.pdf

[6] Ibid

[7] Ibid

[8] ‘Boris Johnson says conversion “therapy” is “complex” to deal with – but government vows to ban it “shortly” (SKY News, March 12th, 2021)

[9] ‘Article 3: Freedom from torture and inhuman or degrading treatment’, https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/human-rights-act/article-3-freedom-torture-and-inhuman-or-degrading-treatment

[10] Ibid

[11] ‘Report on conversion therapy’ (OHCHR.org, May, 2020) https://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/SexualOrientationGender/Pages/ReportOnConversiontherapy.aspx

[12] Ibid

[13] Ibid



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