Lui Asquith, Associate in the Russell-Cooke Solicitors, regulation and compliance team.

The ban on conversion therapy: something being complicated is no excuse

Lui Asquith, Associate in the Russell-Cooke Solicitors, regulation and compliance team.
Lui Asquith
4 min Read

Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) is an opportunity to reflect and remember transgender people whose lives have been lost in acts of anti-transgender violence.

The government's national LGBT survey in 2017 found transgender people were twice as likely to have been offered “conversion therapy” than their gay and bisexual counterparts.

More than 108,000 people responded to the consultation, which led Theresa May's government to announce plans to ban “conversion therapy” in 2018.

TDOR this year lands over four years after this initial promise and “conversion therapy” being a form of anti-LGBT, (including anti-transgender), violence will be my focus.

Today I remember those that have lost their life to the hands of this practice and mourn the loss of future individuals because without a thorough ban, lives will continue to be lost.

We must reflect also that LGBT lives are lost in various ways, including (but not limited to) the loss of being one’s authentic self, the loss of true love, and of course the loss of physical life itself. It is a brutally simple fact that this form of anti-transgender violence continues, and it needs to be banned to ensure individuals are deterred from administering such practices, as far as possible.

For those unaware, “conversion therapy” (which I will call conversion practices from now) includes, “medical, psychiatric, psychological, religious, cultural or any other interventions that seek to change, “cure”, or suppress the sexual orientation and/or gender of a person”.

Being a member of the LGBT community myself, (in respect of both my sexual orientation and gender identity), the fact that this form of abuse is being allowed to continue through a lack of governmental action is shocking.

It’s even more shocking considering the government’s own research illustrates that 2% of LGBT individuals have undergone conversion practices, 69% of which are between 16 to 34 years old (see the government's national LGBT survey in 2017).

This form of violence is permitted to persist even in the face of both British and American mental health associations collectively expressing firm opposition to all forms of conversation practices. And it persists, most cruelly, in the face of survivors coming forward and telling their stories.

We also know that sadly many victims do not survive this abhorrent practice due to the significant psychological, social and interpersonal harms that they face which includes increased depression, anxiety, lowered self-esteem and social isolation.

The Conversion Therapy and Gender Identity Survey 2020 found that instances of attempted suicide, suicidal thoughts, eating disorders, anxiety and depression occurred at a higher frequency in gender diverse participants who had been subjected to gender identity conversion practices.

Trans people are almost twice as likely to have been offered or subjected to conversion practices than cisgender (not trans) LGB people in the UK; yet, in April this year the government decided trans people were not to be included in the initial ban.

The (then) Prime Minister spoke of “complexities and sensitivities” when “you move from the area of sexuality to the question of gender” and it was decided that a ban on trans-related conversion practices was so technically complicated that it would be excluded from initial legislation.

Consider this within the context that nearly every country that has banned conversion practices has done so for both sexual orientation and gender identity, including in most recently Canada, France and New Zealand. Why is it too complicated for us and not for others?

The reality is that it is not too complicated – drafting legislation to protect a population from perpetrated, discriminative abuse should never be deemed ‘too complicated’.   

Conversion practices are abuse and a form of violence that no LGBT+ person should be left at risk of. Indeed, it involves legal complexities that will need to be thrashed out during a drafting process. Some of the legal sticking points will be in respect of consent and how to protect explorative conversations or therapy from criminalisation.

To name a few, the ban would involve considerations around regulatory, human rights, civil and criminal law. It is no small task but kicking it into the long grass when the evidence of harm is clear, is not the answer. Indeed, once (and if) a ban ever arrives it will undoubtedly result in litigation that will ensure conversations and interrogation around this issue will continue. And so, it should. This is an important, complicated and sensitive issue that should never be considered easy. The law should – and can - approach it as such.

Lui Asquith is an associate in our public law and regulatory team. They are currently drafting a chapter for a Hart Bloomsbury Publication entitled, “Banning ‘Conversion Therapy’: Legal and Policy Perspectives” which is expected to be published in 2023.

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