Theresa May vows to eradicate ‘abhorrent’ gay conversion therapy as part of LGBT+ equality plan

Ministers decided to act on the controversial practice after a survey found it to be more prevalent than previously thought

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Tuesday 03 July 2018 12:07 BST
Theresa May vows to eradicate ‘abhorrent’ gay conversion therapy as part of LGBT+ equality plan

Theresa May has vowed to eradicate the “abhorrent” practice of gay conversion therapy as she today publishes the world’s largest LGBT+ survey and a government plan aimed at addressing discrimination and health inequality.

Writing exclusively for The Independent, Penny Mordaunt, the women and equalities minister, said that conversion therapy – sometimes referred to as “gay cure” – is “abuse of the worst kind and must be stamped out”.

The decision comes after ministers found the controversial practice, which aims to alter a person’s sexual orientation, to be more prevalent than previously thought after analysing the survey of 108,000 LGBT+ individuals across the UK.

It forms one of 75 commitments in the action plan – alongside a £4.5m fund – to tackle issues raised by the LGBT+ community in the survey last summer that aimed to gain an in-depth understanding of experiences of life in Britain.

Results in the survey suggested that 5 per cent – 5,400 people – had been offered the widely discredited therapy by a range of faith organisations, healthcare providers, and family members while two per cent (2,160) had undergone it.

Ms Mordaunt said the practice – described as “unethical and potentially harmful” by NHS England in 2014 – can “range from pseudo-psychological treatments to in the most extreme cases, surgical interventions and ‘corrective rape’.”

Her department will now consider “all legislative and non-legislative options” to prohibit promoting, offering or conducting the therapy in the UK.

Other results of the survey included:

  • Two in three people (68 per cent) said they avoided holding hands with a same-sex partner in public for fear of a negative reaction
  • 2 per cent have undergone conversion therapy while 5 per cent have been offered it
  • Nearly a quarter (23 per cent) said people at work reacted negatively to them being LGBT+
  • 70 per cent said they avoided being open about their sexual orientation for fear of a negative reaction
  • Of trans respondents, 59 per cent said they avoided expressing their gender identity for fear of negative reaction

Launching the action plan on Tuesday, the prime minister said it sets out “concrete steps” to “deliver real and lasting change across society”.

Ms May continued: “I was struck by just how many respondents said they cannot be open about their sexual orientation or avoid holding hands with their partner in public for fear of a negative reaction. No one should ever have to hide who they are or who they love.

“We can be proud that the UK is a world leader in advancing LGBT+ rights, but the overwhelming response to our survey has shone a light on the many areas where we can improve the lives of LGBT+ people.”

While describing the plan as a “welcome start”, including the proposals on conversion therapy, the prominent LGBT+ campaigner Peter Tatchell, who is due to attend a Downing Street Pride reception on Tuesday, said it fell short on key issues such as the deportation of LGBT+ refugees and described a £4.5m fund in the plan as “derisory and insulting”.

“The biggest fail is the lack of any pledge to end the detention and deportation of LGBT+ refugees fleeing persecution in violently homophobic countries like Uganda, Iran, Russia, Egypt and Jamaica,” he said.

He continued: “Another big omission is the absence of any commitment to compensate gay and bisexual men who were convicted under past anti-gay laws. They suffered greatly; frequently being hit with huge fines.

“Some were jailed and beaten in prison. They often lost their job, income and home. Many suffered mental breakdowns. Their lives were wrecked for decades. The government’s unwillingness to include compensation in its action plan is a huge let down.”

Other actions taken by the government today include working with police forces to improve responses to LGBT+ hate crime after two in five respondents said they experienced them while more than nine in 10 said the most serious incidents remain unreported.

Ministers will also introduce measures to support LGBT+ students and teachers to improve diversity and tolerance after 19 per cent of those surveyed had experienced verbal harassment in an educational setting.

The action plan said the government will also ensure transgender people in Britain are “treated with dignity and respect” and recognised the dissatisfaction from trans respondents regarding the gender recognition process.

These findings reflect what many LGBT+ people already know, that there’s still a long way to go until we reach full equality"

Ruth Hunt, Stonewall

“We will immediately consult on reforming the Gender Recognition Act 2004 and consider how best to make the gender recognition process less bureaucratic and intrusive,” the proposals stated.

In regards to fertility services, the proposals added the Department for Health and Social Care will also revise surrogacy legislation so single people can access legal parenthood after a surrogacy arrangement.

Ruth Hunt, the chief executive of Stonewall, said: “These findings reflect what many LGBT+ people already know, that there’s still a long way to go until we reach full equality.

“The simple act of holding hands is something all same-sex couples do with a high degree of caution. Attitudes have changed but there are still pockets of society where we’re far from safe.

She continued: “We’re really pleased that the government is listening to the thousands upon thousands of LGBT+ people who responded to this survey and are investing funds in areas where LGBT+ people face some of the harsher inequalities, such as health care.

“We now need people in all of Britain’s communities to also come out for LGBT+ equality and to stand up against the hate and abuse we face daily.

Labour’s shadow equalities minister, Dawn Butler, said she was “glad “ the government was paying more attention to LGBT+ issues, but added: “Much of this plan is yet more reviews and consultations”.

She continued: “Cruel and inhumane conversion therapies have been allowed to spread fear and hatred in our society for far too long. Unfortunately, this report does not commit to legislative change. We call on the government to bring forward legislation which proposes nothing short of a full ban.

“With one in five LGBT+ people experiencing a hate crime in the last year, we are disappointed that the government has not met Labour’s call to make these crimes an aggravated offence, the same as hate crimes based on race and faith.

“It’s exasperating to see the government reannounce an announcement they made a year ago about consulting on the Gender Recognition Act. Labour is calling for the Act to be updated to ensure greater protections for trans people, and we urge Theresa May to finally work with us to make it law.”

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