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Will the conservatives deliver on their promise to ban transgender conversion therapy in 2023?

Author: Oliver M.

Editors: Ruth Lucas and Prachi Saraf

The drive for transgender equality has been associated with the proliferation of a supposedly controversial “woke” agenda. But conversion therapy is an independent matter.

2022 has been a difficult year for the LGBTQ+ community. On the 31st of March, a leaked document revealed that the government planned on ditching its long-promised ban on conversion therapy. Outrage from activist groups and supporters quickly followed, prompting the government to instantly U-turn the decision. However, the backtrack came with a predictable caveat: whilst conversion therapies will be outlawed for cis-gendered Lesbians, Gay and Bisexual individuals, those targeting transgender people won't. The news came soon after Florida's shameful passing of the ‘Parental Rights in Education’ bill, an oppressive law disguised by a palatable name, intentionally crafted to legitimise the discrimination of LGBTQ+ children in Floridian schools. The law prevents all discussion and mention of sexual orientation in primary school education – but heterosexuality is, of course, exempt.

The war on LGBTQ+ waged by some American conservatives is not shared by British Conservatism. After all, the ban was promised by Theresa May in 2018, a late legacy from Cameron's government. But as May became one of Brexit's many casualties, the handling of the ban was passed down to her successor, Boris Johnson, who rejected the "T" in LGBTQ+ to satisfy the far right in his party. The decision was predictable. As transgenderism has gained traction in the UK, the integration of trans people, especially trans-women, has been controversial. We are all too familiar with the "bathroom" debate, propagating worries that inclusive public toilets will inevitably create hubs for perverts and predators. But regardless of how gender-neutral loos make you feel, by excluding trans-people from a conversion therapy ban, the issue is being politicised and placed amid the UK’s newest American import: the “woke wars”. Conversion therapy is not an issue of "wokeness", but a form of psychological torture assuming that being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender are mental illnesses that can be "cured".

Public anger is not caused by whether or not trans people should be accepted, but rather by the integration of transgender individuals in public spaces, such as toilets. Therefore, by refusing to protect the trans community from torturous practices seeking to change who they are, the government has both anachronistically invalidated the existence of trans people, and misread the public debate. Conservatives may choose to dispute the rules and laws of what constitutes civil society, but they cannot dispute protecting individuals from torture. The decision is also a chilling affront to the existence of LGB individuals, who, even though homosexuality was declassified as a mental illness in the 1970s, still struggle with groups seeking to change their “behaviours”. It also reminds the community that in the UK, institutionalised homophobia only ended in 2003 with the end of ‘Section 28’, which banned all local authorities from “promoting homosexuality”.

Whilst 86% of Britons in 2019 agreed that homosexuality has a place in society, those numbers were not always so generous. Until recently, the shame and stigma associated with homosexuality prompted many to seek conversion therapy, and still today, 2% of LGB and 4% of trans-Britons declared having undergone it. These numbers are likely low estimates. Just like homosexuality, neither the World Health Organisation nor the Conservative party under Theresa May, considered transgenderism to be a mental illness. Hence, the decision to treat both groups differently is unjustifiable and purely political.

The Tories possess the highest number of LGB MPs in parliament and are now home to the nation’s first-ever openly transgender MP, Jamie Wallis. With such diverse levels of representation in Parliament, the party could spearhead progressive legislation and proudly present itself as a global paragon for LGBTQ+ equality. However, since Boris Johnson's resignation, the implementation and discussion of the Conversion therapy ban seem to have been buried under the chaotic and fast-paced nature of British Politics. The UK may be distracted by the cost of living crisis, but whilst the topic is being politically shelved, conversion therapy still traumatises vulnerable individuals across the country. Neither Liz Truss nor Rishi Sunak have even mentioned the ban. Although more moderate than his short-lived predecessor, the Prime Minister has hardly been a stellar trans-rights advocate, arguing that gender-neutral language is an attempt to "erase women''. The politicisation of trans issues is costing lives. The Conservatives must deliver on their promise in 2023 and ban conversion therapy for all LGBTQ+ groups, or else the practice will always have a place in the UK.

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