A Little Less ConVERSION, A Little More Action, Please
Updated: Apr 25
The government’s LGBT Advisory Panel has come to an unceremonious end. Where the resignation of three panellists should have jolted the government into action, its response has been to pull the rug from the remaining seven members and disband the advisory panel completely.
The advisory panel was formed in 2018 as part of the government’s “LGBT Action Plan” ‘to deliver real and lasting change across society’. Chief amongst its aims was to bring about the eradication of conversion therapy within three years. Conversion therapy ‘refers to any form of treatment or psychotherapy which aims to change a person’s sexual orientation or to suppress a person’s gender identity’ (Stonewall). Methods include using prayer, painful aversive conditioning techniques and the framing of any identity that is not cis-gendered heterosexual as a pathology to be “cured”. In the 2018 government LGBTQ+ survey that gave rise to the LGBT Action Plan, 2,160 LGBTQ+ participants responded they had undergone conversion therapy and a further 5,400 responded they had been offered it. If the respective proportions from the survey were to be reflected nationally amongst the LGBTQ+ population, it would amount to an estimated 27,000 who have undergone this “therapy” and 68,000 who have been offered it. Even where this issue affects only a small minority (2% and 5% of the survey respondents respectively), the number of individuals affected remains substantial.
The government must stop dragging its feet on this issue and instead deliver the real and lasting change promised three years ago. It is not good enough to say the panel was ‘created under the previous administration and the term of all panel members was due to end on the 31st’, as stated by a government spokesperson. Imagine if Johnson’s government were to have also said the same about the Brexit withdrawal, with the process having been started under the previous administration and originally due to end on 29 March 2020. The earliest the panel should be, if at all, disbanded is once the government has got the abolition of conversion therapy done.
The lasting legacy of the LGBT Advisory Board is a painful reminder that representation does not automatically mean emancipation. Jayne Ozanne, the first panellist to resign, cited an ‘increasing lack of engagement’ from ministers, who would act “against our advice” and create ‘a hostile environment for LGBT people among this administration’. Ellen Murray, the third panellist to resign, exasperated, plead that the government, ‘Use the panel for what it was intended and actually prohibit conversion therapy. Stop deporting LGBT refugees. Drop the trans culture war’.
If conversion therapy is ever to be banned, as it has been repeatedly promised, the government must show it is taking genuine action. The disbanding of the LGBT Advisory Board and the failure to contact even one out of the 20 major organisations campaigning for this reform puts little faith in this being the
case. Though the government can walk away from confronting conversion therapy, its victims very often cannot. It is time for a little more action, please.
ONS: Sexual orientation, UK: 2018 (https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/culturalidentity/sexuality/bulletins/sexualide
Government Equalities Office: Trans People in the UK (https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/72164
GOV.UK, New Government Action Plan Pledges to Improve the Lives of LGBT People (https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-government-action-plan-pledges-to-improve-the-lives-of-
Cover Art: Marco Abousleiman