Why Isn’t LGBTQ+ Conversion Therapy Illegal in the UK?


Content Warning: this article contains mentions of Conversion Therapy and mental health issues, including PTSD, and attempted suicide.

Queensland has become the first Australian state to ban gay conversion therapy in the country, reigniting angry questions in the UK about why the practice is not illegal here.

Conversion therapy, sometimes referred to as reparative therapy, is a range of practices that falsely claim to change a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity or expression to become heteronormative.  The key word here is ‘falsely’, as all rational scientific evidence has concluded that the practice is ineffective because being LGBTQ+ is not a mental or physiological defect in the first place.  In fact, is has been proven that victims of the treatment are at a high risk of PTSD, anxiety, depression and severe self-hatred during and after their ordeal, and of course retain their orientation and identity despite being told to repress it.  Nevertheless, it’s not illegal to offer such ‘therapy’ in the UK, or to force people to endure it.

In 2018, the government pledged to abolish the practice as part of a new LGBTQ+ equality plan, but it has not yet happened.  Boris Johnson has promised to criminalise it again this year, stating that it is ‘absolutely abhorrent’ and ‘has no place in a civilised society, has no place in this country’.  But the question is prominent among activists as to why, if he feels so strongly about it, he hasn’t ensured it was banned already.

A national survey of 108,000 LGBTQ+ individuals found that 2% have undergone the practice – that’s a shocking 2610 people – with another 5% having been offered it as a remedy to their ‘ailment’.

In Britain, all major counselling and therapy organisations, as well as the NHS, have concluded that conversion therapy is damaging and condemned it by signing a Memorandum of Understanding in 2017.  Despite this, a survey conducted in 2009 found that of 1300 accredited mental health professionals in the UK, more than 200 offered some form of conversion therapy, with 35% of patients referred to them for treatment by GPs, and 40% treated within an NHS practice.

Around the world, conversion therapy is only illegal in three countries: Brazil, Ecuador and Malta.  Germany and Taiwan also prohibit the use of the practice on minors.  Meanwhile, it is still a criminal offence to be LGBTQ+ in 70 countries, and is even punishable by death in some circumstances, such as in Yemen and Iran.

Nine countries besides the UK are currently considering how to criminalise conversion therapy for all age groups, including The United States, Canada, Chile, Mexico and Germany.  In the USA, 20 states currently prohibit the use of the treatment on minors, but it is only illegal for all ages in Columbia.  It remains a huge issue in the country, as the University of California’s Williams Institute reports that around 700,000 people have been subject to it there.

With the Trevor Project reporting that 42% of LGBTQ+ 13-24-year-olds who underwent conversion therapy in the USA went on to attempt suicide in the last year, and the figures doubtless similar here considering the immense trauma associated with the treatment, the question is open as to why criminalising such a practice has yet to occur.

If you are affected by any of the issues mentioned in this article, you can visit Stonewall.org through the link provided, for a list of charities that help with LGBTQ+ mental health.


Features Editor

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