UK Mulling Criminalising Attempts to Change Sexuality, Gender Identity Through 'Coercive Conversion'
© AP Photo / Esteban FelixMembers of the LGBT movement hold a gay pride flag
© AP Photo / Esteban Felix
Earlier in the year, when the Queen outlined the UK Government's legislative agenda, Women and Equalities minister Liz Truss said Downing Street was committed to ending the "coercive and abhorrent" practice of conversion therapy in England and Wales, with public consultation preceding any legislation introduced on the matter.
The UK Government Equalities Office (GEO) has tabled proposals that could render conversion therapies – when children are persuaded to change their sexuality or gender identity through counselling – a criminal offence, reported The Times.
The new offence for so-called “talking therapies,” according to the GEO, would be punishable by imprisonment of up to five years. For example, the legislative proposals will clamp down on attempts to change an individual's sexual orientation from homosexual or bisexual to heterosexual using psychological, physical, or spiritual methods.
While applicable to under-18s under in any circumstance, it would also spread to cases involving adults who have not freely consented to the therapy or been fully informed about the potential impacts. Furthermore, it was acknowledged that some believe an adult cannot consent even when fully aware of the potential for being harmed. It was underscored that “the freedom for an adult to enter such an arrangement should be protected." The legislative proposals are part of a raft of measures seeking to ban the coercive practice, reportedly by next spring. However, they are preceded by a six-week long public consultation on the issue, set to wrap up on 10 December.
Furthermore, the GEO vowed that the legislation introduced by early 2022 would ensure that those found guilty of conversion therapy as a criminal offence would not be able to profit from the manipulations. "Robust and stringent" consent requirements would be demanded, added the GEO. The consultation document states:
“The government is determined to ensure that no person is put on a clinical pathway that is not right for them, and that young people are supported in exploring their identity without being encouraged towards one particular path.”
The GEO underscored that expressing the teachings of a specific religion, including casual conversations or private prayer, will not constitute conversion therapy. The Office pledged further efforts in conjunction with religious communities to ensure a balance between people’s protection and respect for the right to freedom of religion and belief. Regulated clinicians would be granted the opportunity to continue working with those who may question if they are LGBT+, added GEO.
Among the other mulled measures are Conversion Therapy Protection Orders, which would presuppose removing the passports of those at risk of being taken overseas, boosted support for those deemed at risk and ways of preventing promotion of conversion therapies online. It will fund a support service for victims and those at risk of conversion therapy and is launching a tender process in November.
© REUTERS / HENRY NICHOLLSBritain's Secretary of State of International Trade and Minister for Women and Equalities Liz Truss is seen outside Downing Street, in London, Britain March 17, 2020.
Britain's Secretary of State of International Trade and Minister for Women and Equalities Liz Truss is seen outside Downing Street, in London, Britain March 17, 2020.
Minister for Women and Equalities, Lizz Truss was cited as saying:
“There should be no place for the abhorrent practice of coercive conversion therapy in our society. I want everyone to be able to love who they want and be themselves...stop appalling conversion therapies and make sure LGBT people can live their lives free from harm or abuse."
She added that the announced plans would allow “an archaic practice that has no place in modern life" to be banned.
Back in May, the government announced its commitment to introducing legislation to crack down conversion therapy. Downing Street said at the time it would make sure that any action was "proportionate and effective" and "does not have unintended consequences."
Critics of the current proposals believe they fall short, urging a ban on all types of conversion therapy and warning of “loopholes."
"We also can't support the proposals that allow for people to 'consent' to conversion therapy - a practice that is abusive cannot be consented to. If we are to truly put this shameful practice behind us, the ban must not allow for any excuses or any exemptions," said Nancy Kelley, Stonewall Equality Limited chief executive.
Shadow Women and Equalities Secretary Anneliese Dodds also said that the planned legislation left the door open for people to “consent” to “insidious practices on religious grounds.”