All Rights reserved
The U.K. government plans to move forward with legislation to outlaw so-called conversion therapy, which is designed to turn LGBTQ+ people straight or cisgender.
Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan said Tuesday that a draft of the bill will be published soon and will be reviewed by a committee before Parliament takes it up. The measure would apply to England and Wales and will outlaw the therapy not just for young people but for adults "who do not consent and who are coerced or forced to undergo" the treatment, the BBC reports.
"This is a complex area, and pre-legislative scrutiny exists to help ensure that any Bill introduced to parliament does not cause unintended consequences," Donelan said in a written statement. "It will also ensure that the Bill benefits from stakeholder expertise and input from parliamentarians."
She also noted, "We recognise the strength of feeling on the issue of harmful conversion practices and remain committed to protecting people from these practices and making sure they can live their lives free from the threat of harm or abuse."
But, she added, "The legislation must not, through a lack of clarity, harm the growing number of children and young adults experiencing gender related distress, through inadvertently criminalising or chilling legitimate conversations parents or clinicians may have with their children."
The government talked of introducing the legislation in 2021, then last year announced it was dropping the plan. It quickly reversed but said the ban would not cover conversion therapy directed at transgender people, citing the "unintended consequences" of discouraging conversations about the matter, the BBC reports. The U.K.'s National Health Service and other health groups responded by saying such consequences are unlikely and urging that a ban include treatment aimed at trans people.
Leni Morris, chief executive of LGBTQ+ group Galop, said he hopes for swift action on the legislation. There are "victims and survivors who are experiencing conversion practices right now, and our community deserves to be protected," he told the BBC.
But a conservative Christian organization is readying legal action against any ban. A ban would "end up criminalizing consensual conversations with those who genuinely want help and support," Andrea Williams, chief executive of Christian Concern, told the broadcaster.
In a separate move, the U.K. government announced Monday that it would seek to block royal assent for Scotland's plan to make it easier for citizens to change their gender on legal documents. Scotland has a degree of autonomy, but as part of the U.K. it needs royal assent to change this law.
The legislation, approved by Scotland's Parliament in December, would lower the age for application for a gender recognition certificate from 18 to 16 and eliminate the requirement for a diagnosis of gender dysphoria. Opponents have claimed it would allow predatory men to pretend to be trans in order to gain access to women's spaces.
U.K. Secretary of State for Scotland Alister Jack said the Scottish law would violate "Great Britain-wide equalities legislation," which requires that women have access to women-only spaces, the Associated Press reports. Scotland's government has vowed to challenge any effort to block the new law.
Some activists saw the conversion therapy announcement as an attempt to divert attention from the controversy over the Scottish gender change law, Agence France-Presse reports.
In the U.S., 21 states and numerous cities and counties have barred licensed counselors from subjecting minors to conversion therapy, although faith-based counselors usually fall outside the "licensed" category and can continue to engage in the practice. Major health groups have condemned conversion therapy as ineffective and harmful, pointing out that being LGBTQ+ is not a disorder and doesn't need to be treated.
Around the world, France, Malta, Greece, Germany, Canada, and several regions of Spain have some form of ban on conversion therapy. Ireland is considering one by the end of this year.