Why are we still waiting? The time to ban conversion therapy is long overdue

James Metcalfe
© Ink Drop/Shutterstock.com

Two years ago this month, I wrote for LabourList urging the UK government to bring a swift end to a practice that has no medical or moral standing. Two years on, despite promises made by two Prime Ministers and a series of reviews and actions plans, we are still waiting. Patience is wearing thin: an archaic practice from a by-gone era continues to oppress our brothers and sisters and rob them of their self-determined identity. The wait can go on no longer.

As a nation, we are rightly proud of the progress we have made in securing and advancing the rights of the LGBTQ+ community. In the Labour Party, we pride ourselves as the vanguard of past and continued battles that have united common cause to lift up the rights of all equally. In a world where the rights of much of our community continue to be threatened or denied, the UK has shone like a beacon of hope. But whilst the age-old belief that the moral arc always bends towards justice has for the most part stood the test of time, thanks to the brave and courageous, the struggle against injustice must be constant – including here at home. Complacency is the enemy of progress.

That is why we cannot be silent when it comes to repealing conversion therapy – otherwise known as a ‘gay cure’ – from law. The Royal College of Psychiatrists, the UK Council of Psychotherapists and the Royal College of Nursing deem the practice to be being “unethical“, “exploitative” and as having “no sound science evidence”. The question remains, why are we still waiting for the government to ban a practice that is universally understood to be both physically and psychologically harmful and life-threatening?

Boris Johnson said in 2020 conversion therapy was “abhorrent” and Theresa May before him in 2018 was equally animated on the subject. A majority of the British public support an outright ban. Religious leaders of all dominions from around the world have recently joined forces calling for a ban, too. Public, political, medical and clerical support is secured, so for the most part the charlatan practice is no longer able to shroud itself in secrecy. Yet we still wait for action.

Given all of the support, evidence and testimony against the practice, years on from the government’s first announcement of its intention to ban ‘gay cure’, a publicly-funded examination and the 2018 LGBT action plan, Johnson still wants to conduct another study to explore “how prevalent is it”. Prevalence is not an acceptable excuse for inaction, whether one person or one million continue to be subjected to this unscrupulous practice. A threat to one person’s rights is a threat to all our rights. Nobody is free until we are all free to live without fear from discrimination or persecution.

Now really is the time to dot the ‘i’s and cross the ‘t’s on legislation that will finally rid our society of practices that have no place in the 21st century. Warm words of support will no longer suffice. You are either an ally or you are not; there is no in-between. If you are with us, and the majority are, then it is time for legislative action. The iconic Harvey Milk’s words ring as true now as they did the day they were first uttered: “It takes no compromise to give people their rights… no money to respect the individual. It takes no political deal to give people freedom. It takes no survey to remove repression.” This LGBT History Month, the Prime Minister must end the dithering and finally outlaw conversion therapy.

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