January 27, 2023 - 3:39pm

On the same day that Alister Jack made the Section 35 order to block the Scottish Government’s Gender Recognition Reform Bill, culture secretary Michelle Donelan announced a bill to ban “conversion practices” in England and Wales. She gave a special mention to “those targeted on the basis of their sexuality, or being transgender”.

Let’s be clear: abusive and coercive practices are already illegal. So why do we need a new bill? What is there left to ban? A report published yesterday by Galop, an LGBT+ charity, perhaps gives us an insight. Galop is not a neutral observer. It heads up the list of 79 LGBT+ organisations that form the Ban Conversion Therapy Coalition, a well organised campaign. The report’s key findings suggested that nearly one in five LGBT+ people in the UK have been subjected to conversion practices; among trans people that figure rose to 43%. 

I am trans and I have spent a considerable time in the trans community. I do not believe that almost half my demographic has been subjected to practices that have not already been banned, should be banned, or can be banned. Such headlines are in my view irresponsible fearmongering, and potentially harmful to young people who might imagine that there is an army of conversion therapists ready to whisk them away for a quack cure.

However, the report itself perhaps sheds more light on what is really happening than what Galop might have anticipated. The questions were not published in the report but some of the answers were, and I quote here:

“I was raped by men who told me I wouldn’t like it (be gay) anymore after that”

“Being sent to a therapist to try and make me not trans. [It] Scarred me and destroyed the relationship with my parents.”

“My partner ended our relationship because of God and then the people from church prayed for us to become straight.”

“Family member limited internet access so [I] wasn’t able to see anything relating to my sexuality.”

According to Galop, this is what conversion practices “look like”. The first is horrific, but already illegal. No new law is needed to criminalise rape. As for the final example, does Galop seriously think that it should be a crime for parents to limit their children’s internet access? Or maybe this happened to an adult, in which case I would suggest that they paid for their own access. The second and third cases should worry us all.

Exploratory therapy should challenge the client. When I transitioned eleven years ago, my therapist led me through the alternatives to transition. I’m glad she did — otherwise I may well now be thinking, “Did I really need to do that?” If, however, I had misinterpreted the reason for her questions, according to Galop, she might have been guilty of conversion therapy. The potential impact on psychotherapy is chilling.

Meanwhile, should it be a crime for anyone to end a relationship? Whether God gets the blame is immaterial. And should the UK State start legislating on the acceptability of prayer ministry, then we can stop giving sermons to those repressive regimes that restrict and control churches which minister within their territories.

Galop’s report is a perhaps unintended warning of where the state might go if it were granted new powers to control professional therapists, religious organisations and family life. Really, we do not need a new law. We just need to enforce those that are already in place.

Debbie Hayton is a teacher and a transgender campaigner.