Isabel Langguth discusses the proposed ban on conversion therapy and what this may mean for the LGBT+ community.
The practice of so-called conversion therapy can be traced back to 1899, when German hypnotist, Albert von Schrenck-Notzing, claimed he had successfully changed a gay person’s sexuality to straight – spurring a Butterfly effect of misinformation and pseudoscience disguising bigotry and justifying abuse of countless members of the LGBTQ+ community that lasts to this day.
The statistics on the prevalence of conversion therapy are horrifying. For example, a 2017 Government survey found that almost 1 in 13 LGBT+ individuals have been offered or had conversion therapy.
This statistic rises to 1 in 7 amongst transgender people. Over half of conversion therapy practices are conducted by faith organisations.
The gov.uk website reported that their research suggests populations outside of the UK receiving conversion therapy range from 3.5 – 15 per cent. On the same page, the National LGBT Survey 2018 reports it found 5 per cent of participants had been offered conversion therapy to ‘cure them of being LGBT’, and 2 per cent had undergone conversion therapy.
These measures for consent have no way of measuring whether someone is being pressured or manipulated into these practices
Conversion therapy is very much a contemporary issue despite what many people may have thought.
Research such as this shows that conversion therapy is still an ever-present threat to LGBTQ+ people, alongside the recent resignation of multiple MPs in protest of the lack of progress to ban conversion therapy.
Ultimately, this has led to the Government proposing new legislation to ban conversion therapy and increase sentencing for those who conduct these ‘coercive and abhorrent’ practices.
What many expect to be an iron-clad and thorough legislative action considering the very prominent threat that conversion therapy has long posed to LGBTQ+ individuals is unfortunately not the reality.
While the legislation and headlines published promise a ban on conversion therapy, there is an exception where ‘consenting’ adults can still receive ‘talking conversion therapy.’
There have mainly been adverse reactions to the legislation. Firstly, due to the reluctance to ban all forms of conversion therapy and take a clear stance on protecting LGBTQ+ communities. Secondly, because of the clear issues of the claim that adults can genuinely consent to such a practice.
The proposal states: ‘In line with existing law, vulnerable people aged 18 and over who lack the capacity to consent will also be considered unable to consent to talking conversion therapies.’
What exact rigorous measures will be in place for assessing whether someone can consent remain unknown; they will likely reflect the consent specifications for medical and therapeutic procedures, such as those listed on the NHS website. If so, there is cause for concern.
These measures for consent have no way of measuring whether someone is being pressured or manipulated into these practices, which is an issue that occurs a lot, particularly when individuals come from specific religious backgrounds.
Predictably, the central seekers of such conversion therapy will be those from religious backgrounds; we see this in the statistic that more than half of conversion therapies in the UK are organised and conducted by faith organisations. And often, with religion comes a religious family network from which these beliefs have been passed down or placed upon LGBTQ+ members of the family.
While I cannot claim that all people who seek this practice will have felt pressure or coercion by family or the community they live in or are surrounded by, the history cannot be ignored, nor the countless stories, studies, and documentaries.
There are apparent issues with consent here, which “rigorous” measures, many are sure, cannot account for. How can clinicians honestly assess whether individuals are being pressured, gaslighted, or threatened into such therapy and made to believe that their sexuality is an illness or a thing to be fixed? And why would any government want to allow for legislation that has the potential to let this happen?
In scrutinising the Government’s writings, inconsistencies and redundancies arise. This legislation is merely an elaborate riddle. Readers will waste their time determining if the Government truly has the LGBTQ+ communities’ interests at heart. When in truth, they are pandering, lulling our concerns with bold statements that cover fine print.
Jayne Ozanne’s Guardian article provides a vital perspective on the situation. Previously she was subjected to conversion therapy, at the time believing that she had indeed consented to it. A particularly excellent point made within the article regards the issue of consent and why the excuses made are nonsensical:
‘Their arguments about why “informed consent” for adults cannot be a defence in law when so many people’s health, wellbeing and indeed their very lives are a risk. That is why we do not allow for consent to female genital mutilation or forced marriage, or even such everyday matters as wearing a seatbelt.’
The Government’s own report on the new legislation concludes that research found ‘Plausible explanations for such harms include that conversion therapy exacerbates internal conflicts rather than resolves them, and reinforces stigma associated with minority sexual orientations or gender identities.’
So why, then, are exceptions still being made for this practice, and if they are obviously hurting LGBTQ+ individuals: who are they protecting?
I am sure that many will agree that these exceptions ultimately help validate homophobic and transphobic ideas
Last week, I spoke to Jess Steer, President of the Exeter University LGBTQ+ society, to gain her perspective on the situation. She felt that these exceptions ‘push the beliefs that there is something inherently wrong with being LGBT’ and that the entire practice is built upon ‘flawed logic.’ Jess believed that if she had been younger and grown up knowing that these exceptions existed, she likely would have had more internalised homophobia.
I am sure that many will agree that these exceptions ultimately help validate homophobic and transphobic ideas. The consequences of this could be infinitely dangerous to LGBTQ+ people both within and outside of conversion therapy.
Overall, this exception to the ban reverses or at the very least, diminishes the effects of the rest of the legislation proposed. It teaches that despite there being increased sentencing for the illegal forms of conversion therapy, it is still in some ways an acceptable practice with some form of value when in reality, they are all prejudicial behaviour disguised behind clinical labels and pseudoscience.
It seems that the Government is advertising ‘talking therapy’ forms of conversion therapy as somehow not being projectors of homophobic and transphobic attitudes and ideas, relying on the absence of physical violence that has long been associated with conversion therapy.
But the research is there, and it shows the psychological repercussions, both with and without physical violence, are exponential and life-changing for victims.
Suppose there was an interest in helping those struggling with their gender identity and sexuality. Why would the Government not encourage people to seek therapies that would help them accept that their identity and sexuality is valid and not shameful as this ‘therapy’ does?
Yet, in this legislation, there is no mention of showing alternate methods that can help victims. These are the questions that are being asked and the very same actively ignored by the Government.
The Government wrote, ‘While conversion therapy is an issue that overwhelmingly affects LGBT people, we have developed interventions that provide fair protection for everyone. An attempt to change a person’s sexual orientation or change them from being transgender will be treated in the same way as the opposite and reverse scenarios. Our proposed interventions are therefore symmetrical and universal, protecting everyone.’
I took the liberty of researching statistics of heterosexual and cis-gendered conversion therapy on an international scale. There were none. Then I looked at statistics exclusive to England and Wales, where this legislation will take effect. I wanted to see the statistics of the other vulnerable populations the loopholes in this legislation will protect. There were none.
I advise readers to google ‘straight conversion therapy’ or ‘heterosexual conversion therapy.’ The closest you will come to finding any result remotely indicating the existence of conversion therapy used on anyone outside of the LGBTQ+ community is a skit video by BuzzFeed entitled ‘Straight Conversion Therapy.’ Who knows, maybe during the Government’s in-depth research, they mistook fiction for fact.
The point is that just with so many bills intended to protect marginalised groups, they fall short. Somehow, making exceptions for or enabling those who pose a threat to the community itself or the issue at hand. There is a constant buzzing of majorities needing to be safeguarded in a matter that plainly is not theirs and does not affect them.
It is a deluded sense of entitlement and leads to statements such as the one above, where legislators can acknowledge the importance of what needs to be done. However, by the end of the same sentence, take the attention away from said issues and bring the spotlight back to widely accepted populations who are clearly not at risk.
Somehow, even when these supposed progressive amendments are made, the LGBTQ+ community, the very subject of this law, has to take a backseat to others. The ignorance is astounding yet not at all surprising.
Here are some resources for anyone who feels they are at risk of conversion therapy or is currently experiencing conversion therapy:
LGBT+ Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0800 999 5428
Conversion Therapy Helpline: 0800 130 3335
LGBT+ Hate Crime Helpline: 0207704 2040
For more resources and information: