Banning conversion practices

Conversion ‘therapy’ is not only discredited but deeply harmful. Rooted in misguided beliefs, it subjects LGBT people, often young and vulnerable, to practices ranging from pseudo-psychological treatments to extreme measures like forced marriage and ‘corrective rape’. The consequences? Lasting mental trauma, self-harm, and tragically, even suicide.

We campaign for a ban on therapies, services, and other practices that have a predetermined purpose to change, deny or suppress an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity because of prejudiced assumptions that a particular sexual orientation or gender identity is better than any others. We do not seek to ban appropriately informed and ethical medical or psychological services that are essential for people in exploring and coming to terms with their identities – whether or not an individual subsequently comes to identify as LGBT.

In 2018 this campaign met with partial success when the UK Government originally announced that it will change the law to introduce such a ban on conversion practices. This was followed by nearly five years of inaction until it was finally announced, in January 2023, that a draft Bill will be published ‘shortly’. However, after months of dithering and no draft Bill in sight, a re-commitment to ban conversion practices was conspicuously absent from the King’s Speech.  Despite this, we are finally seeing not one but two Bills to ban conversion practices making their way through both Houses of Parliament. Humanists UK patron Baroness Burt of Solihull (Liberal Democrat) introduced her Private Member’s Bill to the House of Lords in November 2023.  A second Private Members’ Bill was introduced to the House of Commons by Alicia Kearns MP (Conservative) on behalf of All-Party Parliamentary Humanists Group member Lloyd Russell-Moyle MP (Labour).

Humanists UK and the campaign to ban conversion therapy

LGBT Humanists is a volunteer-led section of Humanists UK. For over 40 years LGBT Humanists has promoted humanism as a rational, naturalistic worldview that trusts the scientific method as the most reliable route to truth and encourages a moral and ethical life based on logic, reason, and compassion. We campaign for equality, particularly for LGBT people – both in the UK and internationally.

The humanist movement has played a key role in the progress of LGBT rights such as the decriminalisation of gay sex, ending Section 28, and the equalisation of the age of consent. In 2005, LGBT Humanists organised the UK’s first ever celebration of the International Day Against Homophobia (now the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia), which celebrates the World Health Organisation’s declassification of homosexuality as an illness. This has since grown into a significant event in the UK each year. And LGBT Humanists has consistently been ahead of the curve. It campaigned for legal same-sex marriages from its formation in 1979, and it was over 30 years ago that LGBT Humanists first brought conversion practices to national attention, working against the practice of forced prayers in church halls.

What we’re doing now

  • We are active members of the Ban Conversion Therapy Coalition.
  • In September 2023, we joined other campaigners outside the Houses of Parliament to protest the UK Government’s ongoing delays to the publication of a draft bill on banning conversion therapy.
  • In June 2023, we raised our concerns at the UN Human Rights Council with interventions about religious harms caused to LGBT people, including conversion practices, and the use of forced marriage as a means of conversion. These were the latest of several interventions we have delivered to the Human Rights Council on conversion practices, calling on the UK and other states to legislate for a ban in 2018, 2019, 2021 and 2022.
  • In 2022, LGBT Humanists called for the UK Government to strengthen proposals to ban conversion practices in England and Wales in response to a consultation by the Government Equalities Office.
  • In 2020, we supported efforts in the House of Keys (the Isle of Man’s parliament) to ban conversion practices on the Isle of Man. The self-governing island is set to become the first British territory to ban the practice.
  • After the Government announced its commitment to introduce a ban on conversion practices in the UK. In 2019, we met with the Government Equalities Office to discuss how this ban could be implemented.
  • In 2018, we advised and worked with the Ozanne Foundation to produce the Faith and Sexuality Survey investigating the harms of conversion practices for young people in religious settings.
  • In February 2018, we identified an upcoming propaganda film from the Core Issues Trust that would be airing at Vue in Leicester Square, a major UK commercial cinema. We briefed journalists on the event and used the ensuing media furore to promote our message that the practice deserves to be banned outright in UK criminal law.
  • In October 2017, an investigation by the Liverpool Echo into conversion therapy by the Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministry, which has 90 branches across Liverpool and Manchester, found harrowing case studies of individuals who had attempted ‘starvation’ and other measures to cure their sexuality. We responded by calling on the UK and devolved governments to bring new legislation to make these so-called therapies a criminal offence. The Home Office at the time referred to conversion therapy as ‘homophobic hate crimes’, but declined to bring forward new legislation.
  • In 2016, we spotlighted issues with conversion therapy in British schools through our Faith Schoolers Anonymous whistleblowing platform. The blog post highlighted ‘gay exorcisms’ associated with a private Accelerated Christian Education school, emphasising shortcomings in relation to children’s rights and child protection standards in British schools.


What is conversion therapy? 

Conversion “therapy” is a discredited and harmful practice, usually rooted in false and often pseudoscientific or religious beliefs about what causes people to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. The UK Government Equalities Office defines so-called ‘conversion therapies’ as ‘techniques intended to change someone’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity’. They aim to stop a person from expressing their sexual orientation or gender identity (e.g. by persuading them to change or deny their sexual orientation, be celibate, or suppress their gender identity or expression).

It often happens in secret in closed-off religious communities, but evidence shows that it leads to lasting damage for the people subjected to these ‘treatments’. It can result in lasting mental scars, self-harm, and even suicide. Victims are often young and vulnerable, and are more likely to face abuse from their families or communities because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Conversion practices can take many forms, ranging from pseudo-psychological treatments and ‘aversion’ therapies in healthcare and medical settings to practices that are religiously based, such as ‘healing prayer’, and can include activities such as exorcisms. At its most extreme, this can also involve forced marriage and so-called ‘corrective rape’.

Is conversion therapy a big problem?

The UK Government’s National LGBT Survey (2018) of 108,000 LGBT people in Britain found that:

  • 7% of respondents had undergone or been offered conversion therapy
  • 13% of trans respondents had undergone or been offered conversion therapy to stop them from being trans
  • 51% of respondents who had undergone this said religious groups had conducted it, and
  • 19% said it had been conducted by healthcare providers or medical professionals.

Importantly, conversion therapy remains an ongoing problem. The UK Government’s survey found a consistent pattern, in terms of the proportions of respondents who had undergone or been offered conversion therapy amongst all of those aged 16-64, including 8% of 16-17 year olds and 7% of 18-34 year olds. This is not a problem that only affects an older generation. It continues to harm young LGBT people today.

Despite this,  conversion therapy remains legal in every part of the UK and in all of the Crown Dependencies. As it stands, groups offering conversion “therapy” such as the Christian-run Core Issues Trust operate in the UK freely. It is a Northern Ireland registered charity, which entitles it to certain tax exemptions.

Would this outlaw therapy or support from religious groups?

We are strongly committed to freedom of religion or belief, but it is legitimate and proportionate for that freedom to be limited where it causes harm – and conversion practices are harmful. We believe that when people are experiencing such extreme distress over their sexual orientation or gender identity, they should be met with person-centred and therapeutically well-grounded support. They should not face coercive, medically worthless practices that seek to push them in a particular predetermined direction.

We campaign for a ban on therapies, services and other practices that have a predetermined purpose to change, deny or suppress an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity because of prejudiced assumptions that a particular sexual orientation or gender identity is better than any others. We do not seek to ban appropriately informed and ethical medical or psychological services that are essential for people in exploring and coming to terms with their identities – whether or not an individual subsequently comes to identify as LGBT.

To this end, we are working closely with other groups to develop exceptions in planned legislation on conversion practices that would allow for registered medical professionals and psychotherapists within appropriate fields to continue to provide these services.

Support we offer

If you’re the victim of conversion therapy, or if your sexuality, identity, or non-religious views have caused you to become cut off from your community or to experience shunning, abuse, or ostracism, our support service Faith to Faithless can provide different forms of peer support, sign-posting, and other resources to help you navigate your situation.