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Government restrictions on ‘conversion therapy’ falls short

Today, the Government launched a consultation on restricting so-called ‘conversion therapy’, but its proposals  fall short of the full ban needed to prevent harm. In 2018 the Government committed to this under the LGBT Action Plan. However, what it has now announced does not adequately protect against conversion therapy in religious settings, where the majority of such practices occur. Therefore, under such plans, most providers of these pseudoscientific and harmful practices will be allowed to continue.

There is strong evidence that ‘conversion therapy’ is harmful. This can be particularly true in places of worship. Conversion therapy has been widely rejected by the medical community. There is no evidence that it works and it can cause significant damage to mental health. Such practices legitimise homophobic, biphobic, and transphobic attitudes by falsely equating LGBT identities to a pathology that can be fixed or cured. According to the UK Government, 7% of LGBT people have undergone or been offered such practices. 51% of those who have undergone conversion therapy report that it was conducted in a religious setting. Such activities can include exorcisms and forced prayer.

The proposals include measures to target conversion therapy with a new criminal offence. However, this applies only where it is committed against under 18s or those who have ostensibly not ‘consented’ – as if it is possible to give free and informed consent to a practice that does not actually work –  or are unable to to consent. The Government also plans to introduce Conversion Therapy Protection Orders, increase support for victims, and restrict the promotion of these practices.

Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson commented,

‘Conversion therapy is harmful pseudoscience and as such it should be banned in full. Yet these proposals skirt around the issue of harm caused in religious settings and as a result fails to correctly balance competing rights of freedom of religion or belief and freedom from cruel and degrading treatment.

‘Humanists are strong advocates for freedom of religion or belief, but only so long as it does no harm to others. We know it is within religious settings that the most damaging types of conversion therapy, such as exorcisms and forced prayer, occur. When people are experiencing such extreme distress over their sexual orientation or gender identity, they should be met with person-centred, therapeutically well-grounded support. They should not face coercive, medically worthless practices that seek to push them in a particular direction.’

Notes:

For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at press@humanists.uk or phone 020 7324 3072 or 07534 248 596.

Read the Government’s consultation.

Read more about our work on conversion therapy.

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