The countries that have banned conversion therapy

Former PM Theresa May has urged UK government to ban practice for transgender people

Conversion therapy protest
Protesters voice their opposition to conversion therapy in London in April
(Image credit: Wiktor Szymanowicz/Future Publishing via Getty Images)

Theresa May has said there were times she “would have voted differently” on LGBTQ+ issues during her parliamentary career as she urged the government to ban all forms of conversion therapy.

Writing for the i news site, the former prime minister called on Boris Johnson’s administration to “keep its commitment to consider the issue of transgender conversion therapy”, adding that the matter “must not be allowed to slide” off the political agenda.

May previously voted against reducing the age of homosexual consent from 18 to 16 in 1998 but her attitude towards LGBTQ+ rights has since changed. During her time as prime minister, she promised to ban conversion therapy, a practice that attempts to suppress a person’s sexuality or gender identity.

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In March, Johnson dropped plans to ban the practice of all forms of conversion therapy, a controversial decision that led to a “backlash from the LGBT community and negative reaction from Tory MPs”, said The Telegraph.

The PM had previously described conversion therapy as an “absolutely abhorrent” practice that “has no place in a civilised society and has no place in this country”. Pundits suggested his new position was linked to his attempts to “shore up support from the party’s Right” following calls for his resignation as a result of the Partygate scandal.

Johnson later reversed his decision and a subsequent Conversion Therapy Bill, outlined in this year’s Queen’s Speech, indicated that the government would ban the practice in “certain scenarios”, such as trying to change someone’s sexuality, but would not apply to transgender people.

Including gender in the legislation could have “unintended consequences”, said the BBC. This “might affect teachers, parents and therapists helping children who are struggling with their gender identity”.

What is conversion therapy?

Conversion therapy, which is sometimes also referred to as “reparative therapy”, tries to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity. That means that it tries to stop or suppress a person from being homosexual, or from living as a different gender to the sex recorded at their birth.

“It can include talking therapies and prayer,” said the BBC, “but more extreme forms can include exorcism, physical violence and food deprivation.”

The NHS, the British Psychological Society and other professional bodies have said that all kinds of conversion therapy are “unethical and potentially harmful”.

Where is conversion therapy illegal?

Brazil introduced a “trailblazing ban” on conversion therapy relating to sexual orientation in 1999, said the LGTBQ+ rights charity Stonewall. This was the world’s first conversion therapy ban, and it was expanded to cover gender identity in 2018.

Around 16 countries – including Samoa, Fiji, Taiwan, Argentina, Uruguay, Ecuador, Malta and Germany – have introduced some form of ban on conversion therapy. And many other states, cities and provinces are introducing legislation, according to the BBC.

New Zealand is the most recent country to pass new laws banning conversion therapy, introducing two criminal offences in February for attempts to change the sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression of anyone under 18.

Meanwhile, countries including Ireland, Israel, Norway, Denmark and Finland are all currently looking at measures to ban conversion therapy, or are launching consultations.

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