What is conversion therapy? Ban not thought to be in King’s Speech

People take part in a protest over transgender people not being included in plans to ban conversion therapy  (Yui Mok / PA)
People take part in a protest over transgender people not being included in plans to ban conversion therapy (Yui Mok / PA)

The Government is not expected to announce an impending ban on conversion therapy despite pressure from the LGBT community as well as politicians.

A press release sent to the media on Saturday ahead of Tuesday’s (November 7) King’s Speech did not mention the controversial practice would be reviewed in the next term.

The King’s Speech – which will be the first time a male head of state gives the reading for more than 70 years – will likely mark the Sunak government’s final term before a general election.

It was reported last week that a ban had been included in a draft but was taken out by Mr Sunak. It was said 40 Tory MPs had requested its exclusion.

ITV correspondent Paul Brand tweeted: “I understand the government thinks the shape of a ban isn’t ready yet.

“It’s been five years since the Conservatives first promised to ban it.”

Sunak's support of the bill came after senior Conservative MPs slammed the Government over ongoing delays, calling it a “moral failing”.

In a letter to the PM, a cross-party group of politicians and campaigners previously criticised the delay in implementing the ban since the pledge was made five years ago.

“Not only has the delay damaged the lives of countless vulnerable LGBT+ victims, it has also emboldened perpetrators to act with impunity,” said the group.

“Protecting vulnerable people from abuse should be a primary aim of any democracy. We therefore urge you to fulfil your promise and publish the long-awaited legislation immediately. It is time to end these unethical, harmful and ineffective practices that have been condemned by religious leaders and by medical, psychiatric, psychological and healthcare professionals worldwide.”

Some MPs and campaigners were concerned that exemptions for religious leaders and when consent was given could be inserted in the draft bill.

More than 400,000 people who are gay, transgender, or non-binary had been subjected to someone trying to change, “cure”, or suppress their sexual orientation or gender identity, according to research published by Galop, an LGBTQ+ anti-abuse charity.

So what is the practice, how many people have experienced it, and what is its future in the UK?

What is conversion therapy?

Conversion therapy is the use of methods, such as aversive stimulation (a form of psychological treatment in which the patient is exposed to a stimulus while simultaneously being subjected to some form of discomfort) or religious counselling, to change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation.

It is also used in an attempt to persuade trans people to alter their gender identity to correspond with the sex they had at birth.

The practice has been described by NHS England as “unethical and potentially harmful”.

Mental-wellbeing charity Mind has also condemned it as something which has “a terrible impact on a person’s mental health”.

Will it be banned in the UK?

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, left, speaks with Jayne Ozanne, right, and other LGBT+ campaigners and their allies (Yui Mok / PA)
The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, left, speaks with Jayne Ozanne, right, and other LGBT+ campaigners and their allies (Yui Mok / PA)

There have been discussions about a conversion therapy ban for several years. However, finally, a draft bill outlining the ban is expected to be revealed next month.

The Government pledged to end conversion therapy in 2018, under former prime minister Theresa May.

But, in March 2021, three advisers quit the Government’s LGBT advisory panel over worries it was acting too slowly on the ban.

One of the advisers, Jayne Ozanne, accused ministers of creating a “hostile environment” for LGBT people.

In March 2022, a leaked Downing Street briefing paper seen by ITV News showed that Boris Johnson had dropped plans for the ban.

But only hours later – following outrage from LGBT campaigners and health charities – Number 10 U-turned again, with a senior Government source quoted as saying the ban would feature in the next Queen’s Speech.

However, it was reported that the legislation would cover “only gay conversion therapy, not trans”.

Writing in the i for the 50th anniversary of the UK’s first Pride, Mrs May said in July 2022: “Few people, reading accounts from trans people, would disagree that they still face indignities and prejudice, when they deserve understanding and respect.

“We need to strive for greater understanding on both sides of the debate. Just because an issue is controversial, that doesn’t mean we can avoid addressing it.

“To that end, the Government must keep to its commitment to consider the issue of transgender conversion therapy. If it is not to be in the upcoming Bill, then the matter must not be allowed to slide.”

On January 17, 2023, Ms Donelan announced that the Government would publish “a draft bill which will set out a proposed approach to ban conversion practices,” that will apply to England and Wales.

Her statement said: “We recognise the strength of feeling on the issue of harmful conversion practises and remain committed to protecting people from these practises, and making sure they can live their lives free from the threat of harm or abuse.”

The bill will protect people who are targeted based on their sexuality or for being transgender.

There has been speculation over whether it will feature in the King’s Speech on November 7 and a press release before the reading did not mention it.

How many people in the UK have experienced conversion therapy?

The exact number is not known. However, a national LGBT survey undertaken by the Government in 2017 suggested that five per cent of LGBT people had been offered conversion – and two per cent had undergone the therapy.

These figures were higher among trans people, with eight per cent saying they had been offered the therapy, and four per cent reporting having undergone it.

Where has conversion therapy been banned so far?

In 1999, Brazil became the first country to ban conversion therapy relating to sexual orientation, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights, charity Stonewall said.

Many countries have followed suit by imposing a full or partial ban since, including Samoa, Canada, Germany, Mexico, and parts of Australia.

Dozens of US states have also banned the practice, with the exception of religious organisations.

What will be in the King’s Speech 2023?

King Charles will deliver his first King’s Speech as monarch on Tuesday (Aaron Chown / PA)
King Charles will deliver his first King’s Speech as monarch on Tuesday (Aaron Chown / PA)

While there has not been a mention of conversion therapy, there could still be room for policy announcements around the economy and infrastructure.

The speech will be given at around 11.30am.

Rishi Sunak said: “Just as I have done with energy security, net zero, illegal migration, and HS2, the King’s Speech will take the long-term decisions to address the challenges this country faces, not the easy way out with short-term gimmicks.

“As we take the necessary steps to halve inflation and reduce debt, we will legislate to grow the economy, by supporting innovative businesses and protecting consumers.

“To make the real change this country needs, we will bring forward bills that strengthen our society, help people feel safer in their own communities, and give a sense of pride in the place they call home.”