A UK government plan to criminalise non-consensual sexuality conversion therapy has drawn a mixed response; critics claim it could be “weaponised” against trans groups, while supporters have termed it a “victory for common sense.”
The proposed plan will make it illegal to try to coerce unwilling individuals – particularly children and vulnerable adults unable to properly consent – to change their sexual preferences or gender identity. But it will permit consenting adults to choose to undergo controversial conversion therapy programmes – while also placing “robust and stringent” requirements on informed consent.
While violent forms of conversion therapy are already punishable under separate offences, the new plan will reportedly make all forms of such therapies punishable by a maximum five-year prison term. The proposal also notes that sentencing for violent offences found to be motivated by conversion therapy must consider it a “potential aggravating factor.”
Announcing a six-week public consultation until December 10 to determine how to legislate the ban, the Government Equalities Office (GEO) stated on Friday that it would explore appropriate sentencing for “physical conversion therapy acts” and introduce ‘Conversion Therapy Protection Orders’ to protect potential victims – which would include seizing the passports of those deemed at risk of being taken overseas for conversion therapy.
There is no place for the abhorrent practice of conversion therapy in our society. Our proposals will:🏳️🌈 Ensure LGBT people can live their lives free from harm🧒 Stop u-18s making irreversible decisions☑️ Protect freedom of speech and choice👇https://t.co/lH2mj5Zvyd
— Liz Truss (@trussliz) October 29, 2021
Following the consultation period, Women and Equalities Minister Liz Truss will tailor the proposal according to the responses, with the aim of preparing and drawing up legislation by spring 2022. The GEO said it had developed a “practical package of interventions” after discussions with key stakeholders and victims of conversion therapy – many of whom detailed the negative impacts on their mental health.
“There should be no place for the abhorrent practice of coercive conversion therapy in our society,” Truss said, adding that the government was committed to banning an “archaic practice that has no place in modern life” to “make sure LGBT people can live their lives free from the threat of harm or abuse.”
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Under the proposals, the work done by regulated medical professionals like psychiatrists and doctors will be protected. But unidentified government sources told The Times that organisations such as Mermaids – a non-profit that counsels children with so-called gender dysphoria – could be outlawed.
The announcement prompted a mixture of responses from social media users, with several commenters applauding the move as a “victory for common sense” that would “save thousands from irreversible harm.” But critics viewed the proposal with suspicion. One person said it “completely [misunderstands] the power dynamics” in conversion therapy and claimed it would be “weaponised” against trans charities.
The position of Our Duty is that a gender identity is a social identity and does not need medicalising. We will defend the rights of parents to reject the ideology behind gender identity, and support parents to help their children reject an incongruent gender identity.
— Our Duty : parents challenging gender ideology (@OurDutyGrp) October 29, 2021
This is a master stroke in keeping the LGBTQ community divided. LGB groups are happy to have conversion therapy banned, so trans ppl fighting back look like they're opposing that ban & thus pro-conversion therapy.This is how the ruling class rules. Divide & conquer.
— Morgan Art-boo-khina 👻 (@LavenderNRed) October 29, 2021
Noting that “love” was “not a pathology” that needed “treating,” Conservative MP Alicia Kearns tweeted that the “robust” proposals would “protect LGBTQ+ people from bigotry and quackery packaged up by sinister charlatans to snare and profit off the vulnerable.”
But a number of people, including Kearns, raised concerns about the “legal definition” of coercion and the informed consent requirements – with some calling it a possible “loophole”. The government’s former LGBT adviser, Jayne Ozanne, criticised the plan for exempting religious practices. According to the GEO, religious teachings and private prayer would not be construed as conversion therapy.
Extremely concerned that the government is allowing 'informed consent' for adults – it's a major loophole & will leave thousands at risk. Sadly, the desires of perpetrators have been priortised over the needs of survivors in relation to religious practiceshttps://t.co/fNLdhb2kVu
— Jayne Ozanne (@JayneOzanne) October 29, 2021
“If LGBT+ people are being shamed & pressured to go straight by family, religious leaders or their peers, they cannot give genuine consent,” LGBT activist Peter Tatchell tweeted.
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