LGBT Humanists has called for the UK Government to strengthen proposals to ban the abhorrent practice of so-called ‘conversion therapy’ in England and Wales. It has done so in response to a consultation by the Government Equalities Office. This consultation proposes to criminalise these practices, but only for those under 18 years of age or adults who lack the capacity to consent, and only outside of religious settings. Most conversion therapy occurs in religious settings.
Conversion therapy is harmful pseudoscience. Such practices have been widely rejected by the medical community. There is no evidence that they work. On the contrary, they cause significant damage to the mental health of those who experience them. Yet conversion therapy is still widely practiced, especially within religious settings. The UK Government’s 2018 National LGBT Survey showed that 7% of LGBT people had undergone or been offered such practices. Of those who had undergone conversion therapy 51% reported that it had been conducted by a religious group or in a religious setting. Such activities can include exorcisms and forced prayer. Conversion therapy legitimises homophobic, biphobic, and transphobic attitudes by falsely equating LGBT identities to a pathology that can be fixed or cured.
Although supportive of the introduction of a ban, LGBT Humanists expressed concern that current proposals fall short of the full ban needed to prevent harm to LGBT individuals. The Government’s current plan would mean that this ban would only extend to children and adults who lack capacity to consent or adults who have explicitly not consented. As these practices have no medical or scientific efficacy and the harms caused to participants are well known, it is therefore not possible for an adult to give free and informed consent. Therefore, it should not be a defence in law that victims appear to have consented.
The Government’s current definition of conversion therapy only includes practices that aim to ‘change’ someone’s sexuality or gender identity. It omits practices that focus on suppression or that explicitly take place in religious settings or involve religious practices.
LGBT Humanists Coordinator Chris Lynch commented,
‘We strongly believe that the Government is right to end “conversion therapy” through a legislative ban. We applauded its commitment to do so back in 2018. It has been a long wait for action over the past four years. Whilst we are supportive of the Government’s direction of travel, the current proposals have some glaring omissions and lack the detail and nuance needed to ensure that it captures these practices wherever they occur. In particular, the failure to ban conversion therapy in religious settings, where most such therapy occurs, is a glaring oversight.
‘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.’
For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 020 7324 3072 or 07534 248 596.
Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.
LGBT Humanists promotes humanism and LGBT equality, working to combat prejudice and discrimination against humanists and LGBT people. You do not need to identify as LGBT to become a member.