As a lesbian woman, I was subjected to conversion practices. We must protect trans people against this abuse

Last night, No 10 backed down on its plans to scrap its long-promised ban on “conversion practice” for lesbian, gay and bisexual people, but crucially it has chosen to leave trans people unprotected. As someone who underwent nearly 20 years of conversion practices, which resulted in me being hospitalised twice, I find this utterly unforgivable.

Conversion practice is any intervention that seeks to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. These interventions can involve pseudo-scientific counselling sessions, being prayed over, exorcisms and even corrective rape. I put myself through years of “healing prayer” ministry, sharing some of my most intimate moments and relationships with strangers in the hope that we might “find the key” as to why I was attracted to women. I even took part in exorcisms, paying thousands of pounds in the process. I was constantly told that my prayers were unanswered because of my lack of faith, or because I wasn’t holy enough. Part of the trauma of these abusive practices is that you, the victim, are always left with the burden of being told it is your fault, that you are not healed. It nearly broke me, but I survived. Sadly, many others are not so lucky.

In 2018, the then prime minister Theresa May promised to ban the practice, but her successor, Boris Johnson, stalled on the plans, despite promises to enact them. That is why I resigned from the government’s LGBT advisory panel in March last year, which then elicited a promise in the Queen’s speech that the government would finally ban these abhorrent practices. Then came the leaked report yesterday evening, which I was shown by ITV, saying that the ban was to be scrapped. I and others were furious. There was a media maelstrom which in turn led to yet another U-turn by the prime minister.

I fear that few in the LGBT+ community will ever trust the prime minister again, and most will see this U-turn as proof that this administration is creating a “hostile environment” for LGBT+ people, especially trans people.

One has to wonder who is advising the prime minister, given that he was prepared to go against the advice of three highly eminent UN independent experts, the entire British medical profession and the Church of England when he decided to renege on his promise to protect vulnerable LGBT+ people. The sad truth is that he has only backed down because of a major revolt in his own party and the backlash from campaigners like myself, which has left him with a public relations disaster. Notably, he has made no apology for his actions, and has continued to show that he does not have any understanding of the harm that trans people will continue to endure. My advice to him would be to sit down and meet with survivors as a matter of urgency.

Trans people are the most likely to be offered and put through “conversion practices”. In the government’s 2018 LGBT survey, trans people were shown to be nearly twice as likely as lesbian and gay people to be offered and to undergo these interventions. It is deeply ironic that on the one day that the international community seeks to support and celebrate trans people, Trans Visibility Day, the prime minister decided instead to exclude them from the urgent protections they need.

The damage is clear. My own foundation ran some research with Stonewall and Mermaids among the trans community in 2020, which showed the full extent of the horror that so many trans people faced – beatings, deprivation, verbal abuse, prayer, exorcism. They were left totally undefended at a critical stage in their lives, with no one to turn to for help. As recent research by Galop has pointed out, a third of LGBT+ people experience abuse by relatives – which is why they need protection from the state.

Sadly it seems that some anti-trans groups have spread false narratives and stoked irrational fears, with quite devastating results. The truth, as always, has been the casualty. Despite their faux concern, there is no risk at all that the medical profession will be prevented from working with their trans clients by any legislation that seeks to eradicate conversion practice.

Instead, safe spaces where people can explore and reach a sense of peace about who they are will be welcomed and encouraged – be that in the home, in the therapist’s chair or in a religious setting. Gender-affirming therapy and gender transition healthcare are not conversion practices.

However, what will be banned is telling someone that they have to be straight or cis-gendered, and that anything else is unacceptable. This is what the Ban Conversion Therapy Legal Forum, chaired by Lady Helena Kennedy QC, has called a “predetermined purpose” – any practice that has only one outcome. It is these practices, often fuelled by a religious belief, that must be outlawed and their perpetrators brought to account.

This is why we need the prime minister to act – and act fast – to ban conversion practice for trans people in addition to lesbians, gays and bisexuals, as other countries have done. Delay only serves to embolden perpetrators, who are currently acting with impunity.

It’s about time Boris Johnson apologised and committed to doing the right thing. Whether he likes it or not, the shadow of section 28 looms large – and this debacle has set the Tory party back two decades.

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