Mental health groups call for trans conversion therapy ban

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By Josh Parry & Lauren Moss

LGBT producer, BBC News

Image source, Getty Images

Mental health bodies in the UK have called for the government to include transgender people in forthcoming legislation to ban conversion therapy.

Last week No 10 rolled back on a promise to include therapies to supress someone’s gender identity.

It led to a huge backlash from LGBT organisations and the cancellation of the government’s first LGBT conference.

Boris Johnson said there are complexities and sensitives which needed to be worked through.

The Memorandum of Understanding Coalition Against Conversion Therapy (MOU), whose members include NHS England and the British Medical Association, published an open letter downplaying the risk of unintended consequences and called for any ban to include all forms of conversion therapy.

Dr Igi Moon, chairperson of the MOU, said they would work with the government to find a way to achieve a ban which also covers transgender people.

They said: “We are grateful to members across the psychotherapy and counselling profession, and the whole of mental health, for their clear statement in support of a ban on conversion therapy that should cover gender as well as sexuality.”

The government has said it would carry out separate work on the issue of transgender conversion therapy but was keen for any policy not to have unintended consequences, describing it as a legally complex area.

Several members of the MOU group – which includes psychotherapy, psychological and psychiatric bodies – say a ban which still allows for explorative therapies is possible and had already been enacted in other countries.

Dr Adam Jowett, chairman of the British Psychological Society’s sexualities section, said conversion therapy practices carried out on transgender people are “similar” to those carried out on lesbian, gay and bisexual people.

He added: “Clinicians can still help people fully explore their gender identity where appropriate but it’s time for this unacceptable and harmful practice to end.”

A number of gender critical groups had fought for the ban not to include conversion therapy relating to issues of gender identity, warning of unintended consequences of a legislative ban.

Stephanie Davies-Arai, director of gender critical campaign group Transgender Trend, criticised the letter, highlighting a recent interim report into gender identity services in England.

She said: “We would expect from professional bodies a higher level of engagement with the complex and sensitive issues detailed in the Cass report, rather than a knee-jerk political response. Children deserve better.”

The Women’s Rights Network said they agreed with the prime minister’s decision to not include transgender people in a ban, adding: “numerous therapists and the findings of the recent Cass Review that children should not be able to make irreversible life-changing decisions, particularly without parental involvement.

“Watching and waiting therapies are not ‘conversion’ and this bill obfuscated that fact.”

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Mr Johnson told reporters: “We will have a ban on gay conversion therapy, which to me is utterly abhorrent, but there are complexities and sensitivities when you move from the area of sexuality to the question of gender.

“There, I’m afraid, there are things that I think still need to be worked out.

“I’m sorry we haven’t been able to reach agreement with the organisations concerned but that will in no way diminish our determination to tackle prejudice wherever we can.”

Labour leader Keir Starmer said that conversion therapy in all its forms should be banned.

“That used to be the government’s position, and they’ve been flip-flopping on this over the last few days,” he said.

The row over the government’s decision not to include trans conversion therapy in a ban has led to the cancellation of the government’s landmark Safe to Be LGBT conference, set to be held in London in July, after more than 100 organisations pulled out.

A spokesman said it was “disappointing” to see partners withdraw from the event which focused on the “fundamental human rights issues facing LGBT people around the world”.

He said the government remained committed to strengthening LGBT rights and freedoms and would continue to push globally for change for LGBT people.