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Government revives conversion therapy ban after backlash, but excludes trans people

Yesterday evening the UK Government said it would renege on its commitment to ban the practice of so-called ‘conversion therapy’ in England and Wales. But following a backlash, the Government later performed a second u-turn. Current reports suggest that the Government will in fact ban conversion therapy, but now only when it is targeted at gay, lesbian, and bisexual people. It will not ban it for trans people.

Humanists UK has long campaigned in favour of a ban that would protect all LGBT people. Following this second u-turn, it has welcomed the renewed commitment to a ban for some, but expressed disappointment that the Government has once again failed to uphold its promises to the LGBT community.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented:

‘We are glad that the Government has after all heeded public opinion and will ban these practices targeted at gay, lesbian, and bisexual people. The process has already taken too long and the Government has failed to produce draft legislation in a timely manner. This has caused public debate to become mired in febrile speculation and it seems the promised ban on coercive practices designed to change a person’s gender identity has now been a casualty of that. But such a ban is possible: similar laws have already been drafted and put into effect successfully around the world, without the unwanted consequence of banning genuine, non-coercive explorations of people’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

‘We say to the Government: bring forward such legislation and do so sooner, not later. Allow parliamentarians the opportunity to debate and shape an effective law to ban this cruel torture in the interests of all its victims and survivors.’

The UK Government’s 2018 National LGBT Survey showed that 7% of LGBT people had undergone or been offered conversion therapy. Of those who had undergone it, 51% reported that it had been conducted by a religious group or in a religious setting. Such activities can include exorcisms and forced prayer. Humanists UK believes that 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.

Humanists UK is a provider of services to the non-religious public: humanist ceremonies, non-religious pastoral support, education services, counselling, events, membership, and support. In our provision of all these things the Equality Act protects from discrimination or harassment any person who ‘is proposing to undergo, is undergoing, or has undergone a process (or part of a process) for the purpose of reassigning the person’s sex by changing physiological or other attributes of sex’. All Humanists UK personnel involved in providing goods or services must abide by this. The Equality and Human Rights Commission says in its guidance that, in providing goods or services, to deliberately address individuals as being of a gender other than their self-identified one is unlawful. We support the equality and human rights law settlement in the UK that provides these protections, as well as protections on grounds such as sex, sexual orientation, race, and others. As necessary, we will ensure our compliance with the law.

Humanists UK is also an ethical movement for social and political change. We support freedom of choice to the extent that it does not cause harm. In line with this, we have a longstanding commitment to supporting the human rights and dignity of trans people and their equal treatment. This led us to support recent proposals to ban conversion therapy on the basis of gender identity, as well as recent proposals around gender recognition.

Humanists UK is committed to freedom of thought and the free exchange of ideas. Beyond the parameters of the specific legal situations outlined above, we have no opinion on the definitional question of what should be meant by the words ‘man’ or ‘woman’, ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’, and we know that this is a divisive subject of debate in politics, academia, and civil society. What we require of any of our staff, volunteers, accredited service providers, or other personnel engaging in such discussion is that they do so in a way that is compatible with our values, most obviously they have an obligation to, ‘engage in dialogue and debate rationally, intelligently, and with attention to evidence’ and ‘recognise the dignity of individuals and treat them with fairness and respect’.

Read more about the latest plans for a ban. 

Read yesterday’s news about the Government’s plans to abandon a ban.

Read more about our work on conversion therapy.

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.

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