It’s disgraceful that the Government has broken their promise to deliver a conversion therapy ban, writes Baroness Burt

A woman runs under a giant rainbow flag during the WorldPride 2014 Parade in Toronto, Canada, June 29, 2014. WorldPride is an event that promotes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT pride) issues on an international level through parades, festivals and other cultural activities. 2014 host Toronto is the first WorldPride celebration ever held in North America, and the 4th such festival in the world. AFP PHOTO / Geoff ROBINS (Photo by GEOFF ROBINS / AFP) (Photo by GEOFF ROBINS/AFP via Getty Images)

In decades past, the UK has led the world in advancing human rights and equality for all LGBT+ people. But in recent years, progress has stalled and even gone backwards. This is seen all too clearly when it comes to the debate around banning conversion practices.

Conversion “therapy” is an abhorrent practice which seeks to suppress or change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

The harms of these practices have been summarised eloquently by the UN Independent Forensic Expert Group, who concluded that “all practices attempting conversion are inherently humiliating, demeaning and discriminatory. The combined effects of feeling powerless and extreme humiliation generate profound feelings of shame, guilt, self-disgust, and worthlessness, which can result in damaging self-concept and enduring personality changes. The injury caused by practices of “conversion therapy” begins with the notion that an individual is sick, diseased, and abnormal due to their sexual orientation or gender identity and must therefore be treated.”

One study from 2020 found that people who had undergone conversion therapy were twice as likely to have suicidal thoughts. Similarly, Mind UK has said that these practices cause a “great deal of psychological distress, including feels of self-harm and suicide”.

Leaders in the British medical field – from NHS England to the Psychological Professions Network – have come together to acknowledge that conversion therapy in all its forms is “unethical.”

It is too easy to think of conversion therapy as a remnant from the past. Sadly, this is far from the reality. The Government’s own research has shown that 7% of LGBT+ people had undergone or been offered conversion therapy.

This is an appalling statistic. Sexual orientation or gender identity is not a problem to be treated and ‘cured’. It’s who we are – and these practices have got to stop.

Other countries like Canada and France have already brought forward bans on conversion therapy. So why can’t we?

We should have consigned this awful practice to history long ago. Theresa May recognised this when she was Prime Minister by promising a ban in 2018, receiving cross-party support when she did.

It’s disgraceful that the Government has broken their promise to deliver a ban, five years on from when it was first promised. But we Liberal Democrats are more than willing to help them out by introducing the Bill ourselves.

That is why I am using my slot in the Private Member’s bill ballot to finally bring forward legislation to ban all conversion therapy practices across the UK. To do this, my bill will make it an offence for any person to practise, or offer to practice, conversion therapy.

Of course, it’s important to differentiate between psychological practice or religious advice and conversion therapy. A therapist, for example, who is exploring gender dysphoria with a young person in good faith – with no predetermined goal to change that person’s gender or sexual identity – shouldn’t be penalised. That’s why my bill would require police to demonstrate both action and motivation when attempting to prosecute in relation to this offence.

These are complex, often uncomfortable conversations about where the line is. And this isn’t about telling people what to think or say. But to be effective, the ban needs to be comprehensive, clear and inclusive of all LGBT+ people. We cannot allow any loopholes to persist.

We are just beginning the journey of bringing this legislation towards Parliament. It will be formally debated in the House of Lords in early 2024 before it hopefully moves on to our colleagues in the Commons. There will be plenty of time for these conversations, and I stand ready to listen.

So far, I have been overwhelmed by the warm response I’ve received from colleagues across parties – all who want to work together to make this legislation a reality. It’s clear that there is cross-party consensus for a ban, and I look forward to working with as many parliamentarians as I can on this.

Because this is not about party politics. This is about finally delivering the change the LGBT+ community deserves. And I will do everything in my power to help deliver that vital change.

Baroness Burt of Solihull

Lorely Jane Burt, Baroness Burt of Solihull is a British politician, who was the Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament for Solihull from 2005 to 2015. She was nominated for a life peerage in the 2015 Dissolution Honours.