UK

UK’s so-called equalities watchdog wants to delay ban on barbaric trans conversion therapy

Josh Milton January 27, 2022
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EHRC chair Kishwer Falkner speaks tot eh camera

Baroness Kishwer Falkner, chair of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission. (YouTube/ UBS Centre)

Britain’s Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) launched an “attack on trans equality” after publishing its response to the government’s conversion therapy ban.

The equality watchdog, sponsored by the Government Equalities Office, is an apparently independent body that “promotes and upholds” equality law across England, Scotland and Wales.

On Wednesday afternoon (26 January), the watchdog published its lengthy written response to plans to legislate banning barbaric conversion therapy, condemned by every major medical and mental health body as akin to torture.

It suggested that prohibiting trans conversion therapy – which is described “to or being from trans” – should be delayed even further so more research can be done, despite overwhelming amounts of survivor testimonies being freely available.

The EHRC was also condemned by campaigners for urging Scotland to pause its gender recognition reforms in a separate response published Wednesday.

For activists, the EHRC’s reply effectively prioritises the “rights of those who want to continue practising ‘conversion therapy’ over the rights of those most at risk from it”.

Others slammed the watchdog’s claim that there is a lack of evidence on trans conversion therapy – it’s simply not the case, they told PinkNews.

What did the Equality and Human Rights Commission say?

Among the EHRC’s startling recommendations, it said that there must be a “differentiated approach” to tackling trans conversion therapy, something it said that there is a “lack of evidence” into.

But within the response, the EHRC reference the government’s National LGBT Survey that found that trans Britons are “more likely” to be offered or have undergone conversion therapy.

“Given the documented lack of evidence about conversion therapy in relation to being transgender, recent attention and litigation on the implications of medical and surgical transition, and the ongoing NHS-commissioned independent review of gender identity services for children and young people led by Dr Hilary Cass OBE, we consider that these matters require further careful and detailed consideration before legislative proposals are finalised and the implications of them can be fully understood,” it added.

Shockingly, the EHRC said the government should first ban conversion therapy – the impact of which is “clearer”, it said – before outlawing trans conversion therapy.

“Legislation to ban conversion therapy attempting to change a person to or from being transgender should follow, once more detailed and evidence-based proposals are available which can be properly scrutinised,” the response added.

Minister for Women and Equalities Liz Truss has confirmed that the government will take steps to ban conversion therapy. (Rob Pinney/Getty Images)

If the government do end up banning all kinds of conversion therapy, the EHRC advised that the process be dragged on by publishing a draft for “pre-legislative scrutiny by a committee of both Houses of Parliament”.

Anti-LGBT+ violence charity Galop found in a harrowing report published Wednesday that one in four sexual assault victims were assaulted to convert them – the figure rockets to one in three for trans and non-binary people.

Seemingly taking aim at trans youth, a group increasingly familiar in Britain with threats to their wellbeing, the EHRC said that “psychological, medical and healthcare staff” should be free to “provide support to people experiencing gender dysphoria”.

“This should include support to reduce distress and reconcile a person to their biological sex where clinically indicated, including for children and young people aged under 18 if this is in their best interests.”

Although, the EHRC repeatedly called out Britain’s tattered trans healthcare system. One, it said, is riddled with “unacceptably long waiting times for gender dysphoria services, which we know are a significant barrier to transgender people receiving the professional support they need”.

Religious leaders should be free to ‘encourage refraining from certain types of sexual activity’ 

As much as the EHRC sought to stress that, yes, it unequivocally opposes conversion therapy of all kinds, faith-based conversion therapy should remain untouched.

The government’s plans already faced criticism for toeing the line on banning faith-based conversion therapy, among the most common form of the debunked practice.

It can include everything from “praying the gay away” to troubling exorcisms. More than half of conversion therapy survivors had it conducted by a faith group, according to the National LGBT Survey.

But LGBT+ people should be free to access “appropriate counselling, therapy or support which enables a person to explore their sexual orientation or gender dysphoria, and to avoid criminalising mainstream religious practice such as preaching, teaching and praying about sexual ethic”.

(PinkNews)

The EHRC added: “Nor should LGBT people be prevented from seeking spiritual support from their faith leader in the exploration of their sexual orientation or being transgender, including within their families, schools and communities.

“Encouraging people to comply with religious doctrine that requires refraining from certain types of sexual activity should not fall within the definition of conversion therapy either. However, faith and community leaders should be made aware of the ban on conversion therapy in order that they understand the importance of compliance.”

The EHRC urged policymakers to add more refined definitions of what amounts to conversion therapy and what “transgender” means, a term the EHRC said has “no legal meaning […] and is understood by different people in different ways”.

Another hotly criticised loophole in the government’s ban, a clause to allow people to give “informed consent” to conversion therapy, wasn’t quite blasted by the EHRC, as many, many activists have.

Instead, the EHRC recommended: “A provider of what might be considered conversion therapy should supply the individual with information about the likely effectiveness of this treatment, and satisfy themselves that the person fully understands its implications and is consenting of their own free will, before valid informed consent can be deemed to have been given.”

On whether under-18s can give such consent – something with government ministers and campaigners say is not the case – the EHRC said “implications of this for Gillick competence [should be then] given further consideration”.

Gillick competence, the idea that a child can consent to medical treatment without parental consent, has often acted as a safeguard to ensure trans youth can access healthcare such as “life-saving” puberty blockers or under-16s access contraception.

After ‘attack on trans equality’, activists wonder: ‘Is the EHRC fit for purpose’?

Fed up with the EHRC’s troubling anti-trans track record, some of Britain’s biggest LGBT+ activists and groups scrambled to raise the alarms after the response went public, one they described as haphazard and shot with contradictions.

For others, a lack of surprise. After all, the board members appointed by minister for equalities Liz Truss have stirred concern, with the EHRC’s chairwoman, Kishwer Falkner, being vocal in her opposition to Stonewall and that cis women should be free to be “gender critical” without “abuse”.

Many campaign groups united in calling for the United Nations Human Rights and Ganhri, which regulates national human rights institutions, to reconsider the EHRC.

The LGBT Foundation announced that it has severed all ties with the EHRC after it “ignored the experiences of trans and non-binary individuals who have undergone unnecessary trauma”.

Accusing the EHRC of “attacking trans equality,” Stonewall said in a fiery statement: “We are deeply troubled by the approach that the EHRC is taking to trans people’s human rights.

“Their approach appears to focus on pleasing a noisy minority of anti-trans activists, rather than promoting human rights for all LGBTQ+ people.”

Protesters holding placards saying 'some poeple are gay/bi/trans, get over it'
Stonewall is the UK – and Europe’s – largest LGBT+ charity. (Getty)

Mermaids accused the EHRC of “heel-dragging” by seeking to wire out legislating the already delayed conversion therapy ban, something the government signalled it would look into nearly four years ago.

“Trans people are also victims to this form of abuse and we must leave no one behind,” Lui Asquith, the trans youth’s charity policy director, said to PinkNews.

“This is beyond outdated and we are lagging behind several other countries and states such as France and Canada and Victoria State in Australia who have moved ahead with rigour to pass an outright ban on conversion practices.

“There is no excuse for anymore heel-dragging.”

Indeed, the evidence is all there, Galop CEO Leri Morris told PinkNews.

“We must ensure that the ban protects all victims from all backgrounds who are experiencing this abuse in all its forms,” she said.

“There is no ban for LGBT+ people in the UK that does not include our trans and non-binary siblings. Conversion therapy must be banned because being LGBT+ is not an illness, therefore it is not possible to cure us. If that is true for LGB people, then it is true for trans and non-binary people.”

Morris forcefully countered the EHRC’s claim that there is little evidence on conversion therapy being conducted on trans and non-binary people.

The charity’s sprawling study of nearly 1,000 sexual assault survivors laid bare how “our trans and non-binary siblings are disproportionately affected by sexual violence intended to ‘convert’ or ‘punish’ them,” she said.

“The research that exists on conversion therapy in the UK clearly shows that our trans and non-binary siblings are put through these practices. We know this is happening to trans and non-binary people, and they deserve protection.

“We work with these victims – it is indisputable.”

“I must admit to being really perplexed by the EHRC response,” Jayne Ozanne, a conversion therapy survivor and campaigner, told PinkNews.

The gay Evangelical said the watchdog’s reply “appears to recommend prioritising the rights of those who want to continue practising ‘conversion therapy’ over the rights of those most at risk from it”.

“However, the EHRC is recommending that protections for trans and non-binary people should be delayed and that various religious practices, which we know are harmful, should continue!” she said.

“This is deeply shocking coming from the one body whose legal duty it is is to protect the rights of the vulnerable and to champion those who are being harmed by prejudice and discrimination.

“This is a significant change in its position and one has to now ask whether the EHRC is truly fit for purpose?”

More: conversion therapy, Equality and Human Rights Commission, government equalities office, Jayne Ozanne, mermaids, Stonewall

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