Explained: What Is Conversion Therapy And Will It Be Banned?

Campaigners against LGBT+ conversion therapy attend a picket outside the Cabinet Office and Government Equalities Office on 23rd June 2021. (photo by Mark Kerrison/In Pictures via Getty Images)

Boris Johnson triggered an immediate backlash on Thursday evening when it was revealed he planned to abandon his promise to ban so-called conversion therapy.

Several Tory MPs voiced their anger at the decision, first reported by ITV, with one branding it “fundamentally wrong” and another insisting the “barbarity” of the practice must be stopped.

As a result the prime minister performed a swift U-turn hours later and said the ban would go ahead - but not for transgender people.

But what is conversion therapy how many people have experienced it, and what is its future in the UK?

What is so-called conversion therapy?

Conversion therapy is the use of methods, such as aversive stimulation 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”, and condemned by mental wellbeing charity Mind as something which has “a terrible impact on a person’s mental health”.

Will it be banned in the UK?

The government pledged to end conversion therapy in 2018, under Theresa May.

But in March 2021, three advisers quit the Government’s LGBTQ+ 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 LGBTQ+ people.

The decision to press ahead with the ban, but not protect trans people, may also not be enough for many of the Tory MPs and others who were angered by the initial decision to ditch the ban altogether. 

Alicia Kearns, the MP for Rutland and Melton, said: “I’m pleased the prime minister has listened to our colleagues.

“However we cannot exclude our trans friends - why should quacks and charlatans be allowed to continue to cause life-long harm to them?”

Stonewall said: “Conversion practices are abuse. They must be banned. In every setting and for everyone subjected to it. We demand a ban which is inclusive of all LGBTQA+ people.”

What has Boris Johnson said about conversion therapy?

The prime minister, despite having infamously called gay people “tank-topped bum boys” in a newspaper column, has previously described conversion therapy as “absolutely abhorrent”.

in July 2020 he said and it had “no place in a civilised society, and has no place in this country”.

In October last year, Johnson’s wife Carrie told a reception at the Conservative Party conference her husband was “completely committed” to LGBTQ+ rights, despite the delay in introducing a ban on conversion therapy.

How many people in the UK have experienced conversion therapy?

The exact number is not known, but a National LGBTQ+ Survey done by the government in 2017 suggested that 5% of LGBTQ+ people have been offered conversion, and 2% have undergone the therapy.

These figures were higher among trans people, with 8% saying they had been offered the therapy, and 4% 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, according to Stonewall.

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.

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