Conversion therapies are nothing like true therapy. They coerce people, sometimes violently, into believing that one way of being is inherently more right than another; straight rather than gay; your gender at birth rather than the one you recognise later on.
When the Government announced the Conversion Therapy Bill in May, we quickly saw the gaping hole in it. The Bill bans conversion therapy for sexual orientation for under-18s and demands that over-18s give free and informed consent for it. But, contrary to the Government’s original proposals, it does nothing to prevent conversion therapy aimed at trans people.
In March, over 25 organisations, including NHS England and NHS Wales, signed a public statement affirming that “the practice of conversion therapy, whether in relation to sexual orientation or gender identity, is unethical and potentially harmful.”
We asked leading public law and human rights barrister Dan Squires QC, of Matrix Chambers, to advise on whether legislation, which seeks to protect people from conversion therapy that relates to their sexual orientation but not their gender identity, constitutes a breach of the Human Rights Act.
The advice concluded that the Bill, if enacted in its current form, would likely be open to legal challenges on the grounds that it is incompatible with the Human Rights Act. Article 8 of the Act protects each person’s right to a private life, including their sexuality and gender identity. And Article 14 requires the Government to make sure human rights protections are applied fairly to different groups. The proposed Bill discriminates against trans people by excluding them from its protections, without giving any proper justification as to why.
Some have suggested that excluding trans people from these protections is justified by concerns that they would make legitimate talking therapies impossible. However, Counsel does not see any merit in this. If it’s possible to distinguish between unacceptable treatment and legitimate therapy for those struggling with their sexual orientation, then there’s no reason why the same can’t be done for those struggling with their gender identity.
We commissioned this legal advice so that those in power, who have a duty to protect all members of society, can fully understand the potential impact of the Bill’s failings. The Government must return to its original proposals, which included protection for the trans community. This exemption for trans conversion therapy leaves one of our society’s most vulnerable groups unprotected.
We’re not alone in calling for this. Over 145,000 people have signed a petition calling for trans people to be included. The fourth most signed current petition on the Government’s website. The number is so great that the petition will now be debated in Parliament on 13 June.
As Munroe Bergdorf told Elle Magazine in April, “If we can’t rely on the Government to have progressive conversations about how transgender people can be safe, functioning, and thriving in society, we should take it upon ourselves to be the change we want to see.”
Read the full legal advice here.
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