Why did the government U-turn on its trans conversion therapy ban?

2018 survey found trans people twice as likely as gays to be offered interventions

LGBTQ+ protesters
Thousands of protesters pass through Trafalgar Square on the first Reclaim Pride march on 24 July 2021 in London
(Image credit: Mark Kerrison/In Pictures via Getty Images)

Debates over gender and identity are now among “the most heated in our politics”, said Robert Colvile in The Sunday Times. That’s why “all hell broke loose” last week when the Government indicated it was planning to U-turn on its promise to ban all types of “conversion therapy” – whether aimed at changing a person’s sexual orientation or their gender identity. It finally settled on a compromise: to outlaw gay therapies, but not trans ones.

Its reasoning is as follows. Imagine two children: the first develops feelings for someone of the same sex, and is dragged by their conservative parents before an “authority figure” to “crush” their inclinations; the second is unhappy in their gender, but their “tolerant” parents still want them to wait before having irreversible medical treatment. The Government is keen to “prevent the first scenario without criminalising the second”. And polls show this is in line with public opinion. Most people support trans adults’ right to identify “as they wish”, but feel changing gender should be a considered process. We may not live in a utopia for LGBT people, but neither the public nor the Government is “viscerally hostile to trans rights”.

In which case, why is the Government willing to let trans people undergo conversion therapies, said Jayne Ozanne in The Guardian. As one who suffered nearly 20 years of “healing prayer” and even exorcisms to purge my attraction to women, I know how harmful such therapy can be. It’s even worse for trans people: the Govern­ment’s own 2018 LGBT survey found they’re nearly twice as likely as lesbians and gays to be offered and to undergo interventions; and these interventions, it found, may include beatings, deprivation and verbal abuse.

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Trans conversion therapy is banned in Brazil, Switzerland and Germany, said Emma Flint on The Independent. Here, however, the Tories regard the desire to transition as they once viewed homosexuality: as a disease that needs to be cured.

But it’s wrong to treat gay rights and trans rights as equivalent, said Lucy Bannerman in The Times. No one in the gay rights movement has sought to redefine “who is gay and who is straight”. By contrast, “extremists in the trans movement”, by prioritising “gender identity” over biological sex, have tried to reclassify “how humans are categorised” in various walks of life. Some charities may see no problem in setting trans-identifying young people on a path of “experimental hormone treatments and lifelong medication”, but it isn’t abusive for professionals to question such practices even if others choose to call such questioning “conversion therapy”. On this difficult issue, “a variety of clinical opinions” should be encouraged, not proscribed.

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