Quest’s statement on Proposed legislation banning Conversion Therapy

This week the government announced its plans to bring about legislation to ban so called ‘Conversion Therapy’, “an umbrella term used to describe interventions of a wide-ranging nature, all of which have in common the belief that a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity can and should be changed. Such practices aim (or claim to aim) at changing people from gay, lesbian or bisexual to heterosexual and from trans or gender diverse to cisgender”. (Source: UN Independent Expert, May 2020 (https://bit.ly/3CCdGrX)

The plans include a loophole which will allow anyone over the age of 18 to give ‘informed consent’ to such interventions.

Whilst Quest welcomes legislation which bans this abusive practice, we have grave concerns about this loophole which fails to take account of the issue of capacity to consent, consequential harm (of these practices) and the safeguarding of vulnerable adults. The government’s own assessment of the evidence on conversion therapy based on ‘international evidence on the nature of conversion therapy’ seems at odds with this loophole. In the assessment’s conclusion it is noted that: “… there is no robust evidence that conversion therapy can change sexual orientation or gender identity, and that conversion therapy is frequently associated with harm …”

despite this practice being attempted for a period ‘extending over 20 years’. (Source: https://bit.ly/3bAfA0H)

A collaborative ‘2017 Memorandum of Understanding’, endorsed by over 20 professional bodies with expertise in mental health and governance of psychological therapies, including the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy and the Association of Christian Counsellors, “makes it clear that conversion therapy in relation to gender identity and sexual orientation (including asexuality) is unethical, potentially harmful and is not supported by evidence”.

The memorandum clearly differentiates between legitimate, ethical psychological or medical interventions aimed at supporting an individual, and practices which are aimed at changing or suppressing an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity. (Source: https://bit.ly/3CKec7m)

The Cooper report (source: https://bit.ly/3BHU9p0) states: “there can be no exemptions for ‘consenting’ adults who seek out conversion practices despite the harm involved. This is because the pressures and imbalance of power involved mean that such “consent” cannot be truly free or autonomously exercised. Allowing these to continue would put a significant number of vulnerable people at risk.

As LGBT+ people of faith we are at additional risk. Alongside the misplaced demands to conform to societal heterosexual and cisgender norms from our communities, we also face the loss of our church communities, our families and what we are told will be the loss of our souls (often accompanied by messages of hell and damnation). Homelessness, financial hardship and a varying scale of emotional and mental health consequences such as depression, anxiety, PTSD and suicide are all identified.

We recognise that there is a careful path to be trodden between legislative protections and religious freedoms. However, when religious freedoms result in direct harm to those it is supposed to support, then a primary tenet of the Abrahamic faiths ‘do no harm’, is not and cannot be the driver for these practices. Well-intentioned but misinformed actions which result in the extensive harm evidenced must be legislated against as is the case with other supposedly faith-driven practices such as forced marriage and female genital mutilation (as noted by Jayne Ozanne – source: https://bit.ly/3GIhfzD).

So with a strong survivor evidence base that this practice leads to grave harm in the lives of LGBT+ people and with no substantiated evidence that this practice results in either change or positive benefit in the lives of LGBT+ people, Quest calls on the government not to include this loophole in the proposed legislation.

Gerard Swan, Chair to, and on behalf of, Quest

It is vitally important that LGBT+ people of faith contribute to the government consultation about this practice. The consultation can be found here:

https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/banning-conversion-therapy

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