The British government has announced it plans to ban so-called ‘gay conversion’ therapies in what the British prime minister Theresa May describes will lead to “real and lasting change”. The announcement comes as the government published its LGBT action plan produced by the Equalities Office following a UK-wide survey of LGBT people. These so-called gay conversion therapies relate to any attempt to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity and can involve practices such as electroshock therapy or prayer. The British National Health Service and the World Psychiatric Association have discredited all such methods. The 75-point plan also comprises of a number of pledges including an “increase in support for LGBT students and teachers, improvements in police responses to LGBT hate crimes and access to gender identity services for transgender adults.”
The online poll, which received more than 108,000 responses, ran from July to October 2017 and requested the views of LGBT and intersex citizens regarding their personal experiences with public services. The survey results showed that “2% of the LGBTQ community has undergone gay conversion ‘therapy’, while a further 5% have been offered it.” Of those interviewed, “68% said they had avoided holding hands in public with a same-sex partner” whilst “70% said they had at times not been open about their sexual orientation.”
Following the article’s publication, the UK Prime Minister stated “I was struck by just how many respondents said they cannot be open about their sexual orientation or avoid holding hands with their partner in public for fear of a negative reaction. No one should ever have to hide who they are or who they love. [The plan will] set out concrete steps to deliver real and lasting change across society.” The outcome of the report will include an initial £4.5m funding investment, which has been strongly welcomed by campaign groups including Stonewall. In an interview with The Guardian Ruth Hunt, Stonewalls chief executive stated she was “really pleased that the government is listening to thousands upon thousands of LGBT people who responded to the survey.”
It is hoped this report and investment will enable the government to respond more effectively to the needs of Britain’s 1 million LGBT citizens. The results of the survey also showed that “40% of respondents said they had experienced an anti-LGBTQ hate crime” and “56% of trans men who took part in the survey said they had avoided expressing their gender identity out of fear of reaction from others, while the figure rises to 59% for trans women, and 76% for non-binary people.”
However, in a statement, prominent LGBTQ activist Peter Tatchell said although he welcomed the ban on gay conversion therapies, he believed that the government action plan “falls short” on a number of issues. These include a “lack of any pledge to end the detention and deportation of LGBT+ refugees fleeing persecution in violently homophobic countries like Uganda, Iran, Russia, Egypt and Jamaica”. Furthermore, Mr. Thatchell highlighted the effect of Britain’s economic austerity that has seen significant cuts to public services. “The £4.5 million budget is derisory and insulting. It coincides with cuts in funding for sexual health clinics, which make it hard to get testing and treatment appointments. This is contributing to a rise in infections among gay – and straight people” (Gay Times).