Conversion therapy in the UK

Conversion therapy in the US is often brought up in the media, but I have rarely heard of the practice in the UK so I decided to research

There has been a long standing opposition to the LGBT community and in the past it was widely believed to be a curable sin or mental defect.  Whilst watching RuPaul’s Drag Race I heard the contestants Dusty Ray Bottoms and Tempest DuJour talk about their experiences in gay conversion therapy, and this got me thinking about the practises conducted in the UK, as this is not something that is regularly in the news.  The only well-known example that springs to mind is the chemical castration of Alan Turing which ultimately resulted in his suicide, an indisputable tragedy for a man that helped save so many lives.  Looking on from that, I wanted to find out how times have changed and how equality for the LGBT community has progressed in the years since.

In 2015, Stonewall conducted an Unhealthy Attitudes report which found that 10% of health and care staff had overheard a colleague expressing belief in the idea that being LGBT is something curable.  It is concerning to think that even in such recent times, ignorance of the LGBT+ community is still so prevalent.  In response, a Memorandum of Understanding  (MoU) was created and signed in October 2017 by 16 organisations including the NHS.  Such a massive national organisation committing its support for a cause such as this is a massive step forwards for the equal society we are trying to establish.  The MoU condemns the practise of conversion therapy as “unethical” and by signing, the organisations have expressed “board level support” and it “ensure[s that] they do not commission or provide conversion therapy”.  This is a clear move towards the total scrapping of such practises in the UK as it becomes more and more apparent that they are harmful and detrimental to mental health of LGBT individuals.  It has taken far too long to realise, however at least we are now moving in the right direction.

The Government Equalities Office conducted the National LGBT Survey in July 2018 which covered the issue of conversion therapy.  108 000 people responded, making it the largest national survey of the LGBT community to date.  Concerningly however, 5% of respondents had been offered conversion or reparative therapy, and a further 2% underwent it.  Of the trans male respondents, 9% were offered and a further 4% underwent therapy.  For such a damaging practise, these numbers are far too high, especially taking into account that 51% of the conversion therapy treatments were conducted by a faith group, and a further 19% by healthcare professionals.  The people performing these hugely traumatic and emotionally invasive therapies are widely uneducated and also reinforce the idea of homosexual attractions being sinful which can lead to further or worsening mental issues for the victim.

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In January of 2018, Labour MP Ben Bradshaw stood in the House of Commons and stated “this so called therapy does dreadful, dreadful damage to young people’s emotional and psychological health and it is long overdue to be banned”, echoing cries from the Church of England for conversion therapies to be made illegal.

Following on from this, an updated MoU was signed on the 4th July 2018 with a more specific aim of ending “attempts to offer cures to trans people” and was in partnership with the Coalition against Conversion Therapy.  In the same week, there was a public consultation to reform the Gender Recognition Act of 2004 launched by the Government to further equality within our society.  This is likely in response to the massive social education and awareness of the trans members of our community, and again is a positive move towards a better society for everyone.  This more recent MoU also states aims to raise public awareness of the risks of conversion therapies and ensure all professionals work collectively to ensure appropriate and up-to-date training is provided, thus minimising risks to those involved in such treatments.

Little is known about the actual practises undergone by recipients of conversion therapy, however the Government report of 2018 (above) says “it can range from pseudo-psychological treatments to, in extreme cases, surgical interventions and ‘corrective’ rape”.  This is inhumane, completely unprofessional and hugely traumatising to the victims.  Under no circumstances should any human being have to endure something like that, particularly just for being their authentic self.  The mention of rape is hugely disturbing and it is abhorrent to think that some people consider this not only acceptable, but as a positive move to enhance mental health and quality of life.

Shockingly, there are still people that appear to believe in a ‘cure’ for being LGBT, such as the Brexit Party MEP Ann Widdecombe.  In June of this year, she commented on Sky News that “the fact that we think it is now quite impossible for people to switch sexuality doesn’t mean that science might not be able to produce an answer at some stage”.  If this is indeed condoning the search for a ‘cure’ to non-traditional sexualities then it is truly horrifying not only that people like her still exist, but they have been elevated to positions of such power and influence.

Despite the ignorance and hatred LGBT community members still face, growing support and overall progression is clear to see.  It is uplifting to see positive legislative change towards the total elimination of such harmful practises being conducted on innocent victims, and hopefully one day we will live in a society where everyone is treated fairly for their character and not their sexuality.

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