The long-planned conference, which had been greatly touted by the government as a symbol of its acceptance, has been canceled after over 100 LGBT organisations and charities withdrew from the event.
The withdrawal of the organisations followed two consecutive government U-turns on a ban on conversion therapy. The Conservative party has had plans to do away with conversion therapy since 2018 when Theresa May was still Prime Minister.
Conversion therapy is a cover-all term for a collection of – widely discredited – methods used in an attempt to ‘make’ a gay person straight or to ‘make’ a trans person cis. Often these methods involve creating an aversion using operant conditioning. The most notorious example is electro-shock ‘therapy’, in which ‘patients’ are exposed to homoerotic stimuli before being electrocuted. Other, less graphic, but equally barbaric methods include using nausea-inducing pills instead of electrocution. Such methods, condemned by many as torture, fail to actually change the victim’s sexuality or gender identity, and often leave the patient with other severe, long-term issues to deal with such as PTSD.
The NHS and a wide array of UK psychological organisations have condemned all forms of conversion therapy as “unethical and potentially harmful”.
Until recently it appeared that the government was on-board with a ban on all forms of conversion therapy. In an interview in 2020, Prime Minister Boris Johnson described conversion therapy as “abhorrent” and as having “no place in a civilised society, or in this country.”
However, at the end of last week and over the weekend, the government U-turned on its position, twice. First, the government dropped plans to ban conversion therapy at all, and then, in the face of backlash, announced it was going to ban conversion therapy, except for trans people.
The government had previously faced some criticism for the intended ban from conservative Christian groups claiming that a ban on conversion therapy was an infringement on religious freedoms, and some ‘gender-critical’ groups who seemingly recognise the barbarity of conversion therapy in the case of homosexuals, but are willing to turn a blind eye when it comes to trans people.
The government claimed that the decision was to ensure that doctors, teachers, and parents have enough legal leeway to explore other options for children experiencing gender dysphoria.
The second U-turn did little to assuage the anger of those displeased by the first, with a barrage of criticism following the announcement, including from within the ruling party,
Jamie Wallis, MP for Bridgend and Porthcawl, who became the first openly trans MP after coming out last week, said:
“I’m bitterly disappointed at the government’s decision not to include gender identity in the ban on conversion therapy.”
“It is wrong to exclude protections for a whole group of people from a practice described as ‘abhorrent’.”
While Iain Anderson, LGBT+ business advisor to the government, resigned on Tuesday, citing the government’s actions and accusing ministers of attempting to drive a wedge between members of the LGBT community.
“I was LGBT business champion; not LGB or T, and that’s why I’m walking away.”
On the other side of the aisle, Labour MP Nadia Whittome said that the decision to only ban conversion therapy for homosexuals was “not good enough” and that “LGB comes with the T, and the Tories are not on our side”.
Labour Leader Keir Starmer accused the government of attempting to distract from the cost-of-living crisis, calling on the government to stick to its promise to ban the practice in its entirety. Starmer said:
“Let’s be honest and clear about what’s happening today – the government is trying to get us all to talk about conversion therapy because they don’t want us focusing on the cost-of-living crisis.”
LGBT organisations then began to withdraw their intention to attend the government’s “Safe To Be Me” LGBT conference planned for this summer, in protest of the decision and in solidarity with the trans community. After a vast array of organisations and charities numbering over 100 withdrew from the conference, the government has decided to cancel the event altogether.
The manner in which the decision was carried out has also been somewhat telling regarding a lack of communication within the Conservative party, with Liz Truss, who, along with her post of Foreign Secretary also holds the position of Equalities Minister, seemingly not being informed about the U-turns beforehand.