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Conversion therapy – a plea

by LJ
Published on 21 November 2021


Dear all,

Some of you may have seen the government’s recent consultation on LGBT conversion therapy and are wondering if and how to respond.

It is (what feels to me as a non-legal person) a complex bill to respond to and is a law that covers several areas in one umbrella term. Whilst the bill calls itself conversion therapy, it actually refers to several types of conversion practices, only one of which we would recognise as conversion ‘therapy’. But it does also include us as therapists within the bill, and therefore, as far as I am concerned, it is important that we have a voice in what is written in to law.

There are those who call themselves ‘gender critical’ who feel that currently the Memorandum of Understanding on conversion therapy is unclear and that therapists are currently at risk of complaints if they work under it. I would disagree. I feel that my role as a therapist is to give any client the space they need, to consider their identity. That working in a ‘gender affirming’ way (that is, to affirm the client’s expertise on themselves rather than imposing my own) is completely in line with the MoU. Those who are gender critical express concern about 'detransitioning teens'. It may well be that some teens do 'de-transition'. Most of the research about detransitioners is based on one research article that included 'gender non-conforming' people as well as those who identified as trans. Being 'non-conforming' does not make one trans, and many of us do not have to look far in our lives to see someone who is 'gender non-conforming', so that these young people do not go on to identify as trans should not be a surprise. They have not 'detransitioned'. Also, I would like to suggest that if someone wants to see if one way of living suits them, and then decides it doesn't, we should allow for that. Let's normalise freedom of expression including gendered identities.

The other research that gets mentioned in relation to this is that of 'Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria'. This piece of research was retracted by the journal that published it because it was methodologically unsound and thus valid conclusions cannot be drawn from it. If you are asking parents on a space that is traditionally seen as unsupportive of trans topics, and those parents did not know their teens were trans until their teens 'came out', this is possibly not a surprise - a conclusion we might draw instead (that wasn't referred to in the research) is that the young people (whose voices are not heard in this research) were unwilling or afraid to talk to their caregivers until some kind of transition became an internal imperative.

Whatever our opinion, the conversion therapy bill is at the moment, unclear. We have until 10 Dec to respond. Here are two links that might help – the government’s own research commissioned into conversion therapy and the Ozanne foundation, (an Evangelical Christian association) has also written a report in support of the ban.

I (LJ) have been part of creating the Pink Therapy Briefing Paper, and there is also a Stonewall briefing document, as well as an incoming MoU signatories briefing document also (to be updated as it becomes available). The stonewall briefing document talks through point by point how they suggest people respond. It is very clear documentation and I would suggest easy to follow, with the additional points made in the Pink Therapy document, some of which are mirrored in the Stonewall document and some that are not.

It is important that conversion therapy and conversion practices are banned. No-one should be convincing anyone that it is better to be any gender or sexual orientation over another. The consultation currently allows for religious exemption and ‘consent’ exemption. But on the other hand suggests that conversion therapy is egregious and should be punishable by 5 years in prison. If something is harmful enough that it needs a jail term, then there should be no religious exemption. Given that therapy is often a ‘last chance’ resort for people, there should be no ‘consent clause’ either. The number of homeless young people who are LGBT is about 25% - a significant over-representation. The likelihood that LGBT young people could be pushed in to ‘counselling’ as a condition of staying at home is high and therefore there is significant doubt on just how informed the consent is. There is no evidence that conversion therapy works, and significant evidence that it is harmful. There should be no circumstances in which it is ok to submit someone to that experience.

It is equally important that missing areas are covered, such as asexuality and intersex. Research suggests asexuals are the group of people most likely to experience conversion therapy. The bottom line is, whilst people MAY WELL be unhappy in their gender and or sexuality, this is a societal problem, and it is society that needs to change. Whilst sexuality and gender may be fluid for some people, we should not be trying to enforce change in clients because society is stigmatising of some genders and sexualities. That places both the blame and the responsibility on clients, and it is just not theirs to own.

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