By Zoe Schulz, Head of Content at myGwork
The UK government is commonly becoming synonymous with false promises, and the conversation on conversion therapy has proved just how far they are willing to push this. Although the topic came to a head over the past weeks, it was started years ago with a vow to ban the archaic modern-day form of torture back in 2018. Four years later and they have backpedaled to a position where trans people will no longer be covered under the ban.
It should be simple enough. Conversion therapy is a pseudoscientific practice that aims to change someone’s sexuality or gender identity and is rooted in the idea that it is inherently wrong to be LGBTQ+. All medical and scientific bodies, including the NHS, have condemned the practice as entirely ineffective and highly dangerous.
“The scientific community long ago disproved this notion,” explains The Trevor Project, “and has denounced conversion therapy as invalid, unethical, and extremely harmful for those who are subjected to it.”
Currently, conversion therapy is being discussed in parliament in an almost casual manner that denotes the dire and permanent consequences for the human beings still subjected to it. Suicide rates are already drastically higher for LGBTQ+ people, and when you add conversion therapy into the mix, this increases even further. Research from The Trevor Project shows a direct link between conversion therapy and suicide, with LGBTQ+ youth who are subjected to it, being more than twice as likely to report suicide attempts and twice as likely to report multiple attempts.
One in twenty LGBTQ+ people has been pressured to access services to change their sexual orientation or gender identity in the UK. This becomes even higher when we look at the trans community – with 20% being pressured to access services to suppress their gender identity.
You cannot admit that conversion therapy is a form of torture that should be banned and then simultaneously say not for all people – especially trans people who are subjected to this at a higher rate. Any laws banning conversion therapy need to center the needs and voices of the trans community and leaving them out is a violation of fundamental human rights.
“Across this country, LGBTQ+ youth are subjected to terrifying sessions with pastors and therapists where they are force-fed toxic messages that they are intrinsically broken,” Carl Charles shares of their experience of conversion therapy. “Youth look to parents, faith leaders, and community groups for guidance in navigating the already bumpy road to self-realization and internalize these messages and carry them into adulthood. For those of us “lucky” enough to make it out alive, it can take years to understand that you can’t repair what isn’t broken.”
The question should not be “should conversion therapy be banned?” but how is it possibly 2022 and we still live in a world where it has not yet been done. The evidence is exhaustive, and common sense must also prevail – if we can collectively agree that there is absolutely nothing wrong with LGBTQ+ identities, then there is no logical or moral reasoning to allow conversion therapy to continue.
It is not the first time we have seen laws that are meant to protect and push forward equality fall short. It is often quoted that women gained the right to vote in 1920 in the US, but it wasn’t until 1965, over 50 years later, that Black women were granted this same right. The age of consent in the UK was also changed to 16 in 1967. Yet, gay and bisexual men were left out of this, with the age of consent between two men remaining at 21 until 1993, when LGBTQ+ rights activists successfully campaigned for it to be the same as everyone else. It seems inescapable for history to continue to repeat itself, with those that need protecting the most excluded from the very conversations they should be leading.
The past week’s events have not unfolded without backlash, with organizations across the country showing their unwavering support for the trans community and pulling out of the UK’s first-ever LGBTQ+ conference.
“In the past two weeks, we have seen the exclusion of transgender people from the government’s proposed ban on conversion therapy,” explains Sarah Moore, London LGBTQ+ Community Centre co-founder, “resulting in 100 organizations pulling out of the now-canceled international LGBTQ+ conference, the release of equality and human rights guidance on single-sex spaces that fails to provide meaningful support and protection for transgender people, and a political debate focusing on biology that fails to acknowledge the complexity of lived experience and identity. We stand in solidarity with our transgender siblings. Trans women are women, trans men are men, and nonbinary people are valid.”
Thousands also took to the streets over the weekend to stand in solidarity with the trans community, and similar marches are planned in Belfast and Dublin. Campaigner Peter Tatchell shared on the day, “The only ban worth having is a ban for everyone, including trans people.”
London LGBTQ+ Center was also present, as Sarah adds: “We were proud to attend the Ban Conversion Therapy protest and stand shoulder to shoulder with our community to fight for a ban that includes the abhorrent practice of trans conversion therapy. We held a meetup for anyone who didn’t want to travel alone at the London LGBTQ+ Community Center beforehand and were blown away when we were joined by more than 80 people. Together, we will continue to stand up for our trans siblings. We want the trans community to know that our center is open to you.”
If we have learned anything from history, standing up to oppression, discrimination, and inequality is a difficult, ongoing battle. But it is always worth it. We should live in a world where our government can easily decipher a torturous practice and ban it without a fuss. However, living in the reality that they cannot, we have to continue pushing and fighting until they have no choice.
The trans community brings immeasurable joy to our world and have been fundamental throughout history in fighting for LGB rights, breaking down gendered stereotypes, and ensuring that the world is kinder and safer for everyone. Progress that does not include the trans community – or anyone who is marginalized or vulnerable – is not progress. Diversity in gender identity is not a trend or a new phenomenon, but a scientific fact that has been recorded since the beginning of history. Laws have been vital across equality movements, and although they are only one part of creating a better society, we cannot underestimate the power of legal protection to push forward change.
Our allyship cannot come with conditions on who it covers and when. We have to demand this same standard from our government and any legal protection must cover everyone, with no one left behind. Any laws designed to protect our rights that do not include everyone fall short in their fundamental purpose. Conversion therapy is not truly banned until it is banned for everyone, and we are not done fighting for liberation until every single person is able to live safely and freely.