Government’s Ban on Conversion Therapy for the LGBTQ+ Community Falls Short


On 1 April 2022, the UK Government confirmed that it would ban conversion therapy in England and Wales for lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals.  This came almost four years after its previous commitment to do so and as a result of a quick reversal of stance (only a matter of hours) having said earlier in the day that plans to ban conversion therapy would be scrapped.  Whilst this is a welcome step in the right direction, this ban doesn’t extend to the transgender community who continue to be at risk.

According to the British Psychological Society (“BPS”) conversion therapy refers to attempts (whether that be through healthcare or religious and cultural interventions) to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, based on the assumption that an orientation or identity can be ‘cured’.  It can include talking therapies, prayer, exorcism, physical violence and food deprivation.

The BPS, Royal College of Psychiatrists and other professional organisations have warned that conversion therapy is “unethical and potentially harmful” and is not backed by evidence. The Prime Minister Boris Johnson has also previously called the practice of conversion therapy “repulsive and abhorrent”.

The first country to ban conversion therapy was Brazil in 1999 and over the following 13 years another 13 countries have introduced some form of similar national ban on conversion therapy.  So why is the UK Government out of step with other countries? There has been little by way of explanation, but reference has been made to this being a “legally complex” area and concern that legislation may have “unintended consequences”.  It would appear that there remains considerable discomfort about introducing a ban on conversion therapy in an area where it concerns gender identity issues, and it is reminiscent of what was being said about sexual orientation in the 1980’s. The damage that this outdated approach can inflict is well documented and Family Law in Partnership do not believe that there is a justifiable reason for the UK Government to have delayed applying this ban to gender identity conversion therapy.

In the Government consultation paper ‘Banning conversion therapy: frequently-asked questions’ (last updated 9 December 2021 as the consultation has since closed) the question was posed:

Will the consultation mean there might not be a ban?

No. The government will ban conversion therapy, the consultation is not about “if” but rather how we will do so. The consultation will help shape the legislation to effectively ban conversion therapy.

Following a boycott by LGBTQ+ charities and organisations and the resignation of the Government’s first LGBTQ+ business champion, the Government’s ‘Safe To Be Me: A Global Equality Conference’ planned for 27 to 29 June 2022 to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the first official Pride marches, has been cancelled.

It is hoped that the Government will stand by the consultation document and take this opportunity to carry out what they have described as “separate work” to introduce protection from conversion therapy for the transgender community.

People with gender identity issues continue to suffer significant prejudice and Family Law in Partnership seek to be an ally for the LGBTQ+ community.

Family Law in Partnership is a leading family law firm. Director David Allison is a member of both the International Academy of Family Lawyers, where he is chair of the LGBT committee, and the UK & Ireland LGBT Family Law Institute. For more information on how our expert team of family lawyers can help you, please contact us.