In light of the news that Instagram is now banning all promotion of conversion therapy services on its platform, a welcome step even if it is long overdue, now seems an appropriate time for asking why such services are still legal in the United Kingdom.
Following a petition which currently has over 200,000 signatures, the House of Commons Petitions Committee launched a survey to allow members of the public the opportunity to submit their views on the proposal to ban conversion therapy. For obvious reasons this survey drew strong criticism. It implied that a debate was needed over whether or not the practice should be banned. LGBT+ groups and medical experts have strongly condemned this action for the danger it presents in even considering the possibility of not banning conversion therapy.
The committee has since deleted their tweet with a link to the survey and taken the survey offline, but have maintained that lawmakers have not made a specific commitment to outlawing this inhumane practice, despite the Conservatives’ pledge to ban conversion therapy in 2018.
Now let’s be clear, before we even consider the methods, that the very concept of conversion therapy is immoral. Society has long since moved on from the idea that there is anything wrong with being a member of the LGBT+ community, despite the punditry that the media likes to present. The idea that we should offer ‘therapy’, implies that there is something to ‘fix’, which is not only wrong, but offensive. The case for outlawing conversion therapy only grows stronger when the methods are taken into account. Although electro-shock therapy is outdated, the psychological techniques employed to ‘convert’ people are still disgusting and harmful. The idea that we can shame people into altering a core aspect of who they are as a human being is reprehensible and has the potential to leave lasting psychological scars.
This quackery should have been outlawed a long time ago. Even in the days when casual homophobia was accepted, this practice was wrong. The key question is not whether the practice is wrong, whether the practice should be banned or even when should it be banned. The pertinent question is why hasn’t it been banned yet?
The Conservative Government made a pledge two years ago, but has dragged their feet ever since. Now, I couldn’t possibly say for sure what motivates any politician to do or not do something in most cases. But it would come as no surprise to any of us if progress on this issue has stalled due to the indifference and sometimes prejudice of the Conservative party towards the LGBT+ community. Despite an emerging breed of socially liberal but fiscally conservative voters and activists, it’s hard to deny that the Conservatives still have a long way to go with regard to these issues. Organisations such as Orthodox Conservatives and figureheads such as Dominique Samuels may no longer speak for the majority of conservative voters, but they still represent the views of a worryingly large part of the right wing.
The idea that the Conservative party stopped being homophobic because it was under their coalition with the Liberal Democrats that equal marriage was passed is a shallow one that indicates a lack of any reading on the topic. While all three major parties gave their MPs a free vote, for some reason, on whether or not to allow LGBT+ people to marry who they loved, the majority of the votes against came from Conservative MPs. 134 to be exact. Only 126 Tory MPs voted for the bill, meaning even this basic step would have stalled had it not been for the support of the opposition parties. Furthermore, when a bill to allow equal marriage in Northern Ireland was brought forward by Conor McGinn, it was delayed by the objection of Conservative MP Chris Chope, who notably pulled the same stunt regarding the ‘upskirting’ bill.
In 2017, in the midst of a suspended Assembly in Northern Ireland over many issues, LGBT+ rights included, the Conservatives signed a confidence and supply deal with the DUP. This eroded any legitimacy the government would have had as a mediator in talks to restore Stormont and facilitate the passage of equal marriage at a devolved level. Although such reforms were eventually passed at Westminster, it was a bittersweet victory for the LGBT+ community. The refusal of the Conservative government to stand up for the LGBT+ community in Northern Ireland through the proper channels has undermined the authority of marriage reform because anti-LGBT commentators can decry this move as an overreach of legislative powers from London. Even without these consequences, to do a deal with a party as institutionally homophobic as the DUP shows that the Conservatives care more about staying in power than they do about standing up for the LGBT+ community.
The Conservative party has a long way to go before it can legitimately be considered as pro-LGBT+, and the inaction on conversion therapy is only harming such progress. If the government does not outlaw it soon, then they may face a damaging divide between the conservatives who are principled enough to take a stand on doing the right thing, and those who are not. At least I hope such a divide would happen in the face of such cowardly inaction. Any attempt to ‘debate’ conversion therapy prior to banning it will be poorly received as another instance of homophobia being legitimised through debate, the only thing to do is to outlaw this dangerous practice.
As for the rest of us, our duty is simple. Contact your MP and ask them to outlaw conversion therapy. Many of us do not have the luxury of being represented by an MP who is even worth contacting over this issue, and so it is vital that everyone else makes it crystal clear to Parliament that the law must change.
David Lam is 21 and from Carrickfergus. He is studying Law at Dundee University and wants to get involved in local community activism after he graduates.