Indian royal Amar Singh on crusade to ban conversion therapy and what he’d say to Liz Truss
The deadline is looming for the UK government to explain itself. Again.
Hitting pause on the cost of living crisis and Partygate Part 37 for a moment, 20 June will see ministers debate a petition calling for transgender people to be fully protected under any ban on conversion therapy. In April, plans to ban conversion practices were shelved, un-shelved, and applied only to gay and bisexual people.
Those who are trans, meanwhile, were thrown under the nearest passing double-decker bus.
This frustrates many – including activist Amar Singh, who tells horror stories of people he has met subjected to attempts at conversion. These tales involve tactics right out of a medieval gaoler’s playbook, and, in some cases, have led to death by suicide.
“This immoral practice exists all around the world with only a handful of countries making it illegal despite the United Nations, Human Rights Watch and even the World Psychiatric Association stating there is no place for conversion therapy in a moral society,” Singh says.
“We have gone backwards with countries criminalising same-sex relations, same-sex marriage and LGBTQ+ rights.”
He’s right. In 2016, the world’s largest organisation of mental health professionals condemned conversion therapy, identifying it as a root in cases of depression, substance abuse and suicide.
“There is no sound scientific evidence that innate sexual orientation can be changed. The provision of any intervention purporting to ‘treat’ something that is not a disorder is wholly unethical. Psychiatrists have a social responsibility to advocate [against this],” a statement at the time read.
Meanwhile, the likes of Bermuda, India and select American states have debated at length the legalisation of same-sex marriage and, in some cases, homosexuality itself.
Those in power in such jurisdictions have played chess with the lives of millions. “Poland, Russia, you name it. Remember there are more than 69 countries have laws against homosexuality and that’s not counting basic rights such as same-sex marriage. Only 31 countries allow same-sex marriage!” Singh despairs.
Part of an erstwhile Indian royal family, Singh has used his position and resources to fight for the rights of women and the LGBTQ+ community globally. As a gallerist, Singh’s stance in the art world has seen him contribute to the de-criminalisation of homosexuality in India, launch fund-raising initiatives for the community and lend his ear to government officials on the matter.
But what about the side of the pond he calls home? “Politicians need to stop doing what they do best – back-pedalling! Especially when human rights are at stake,” Singh says; and while the decision to ban gay and bi conversion therapy in the UK is encouraging, it’s tainted by the exclusion of trans people.
“Trans rights are human rights,” Singh adds. “Can you imagine the message that sends to dictatorships – oppressive societies killing LGBTQ+ people – that the UK has practices in place suppressing LGBTQ+ rights? It empowers autocracies and weakens democracies.”
On Monday afternoon (13 June), MPs from across the political divide expressed their frustration over the government dismissing banning transgender conversion therapy altogether.
Minister for equalities Mike Freer, representing the government, said in a statement the government will conduct “separate work” on legislating a trans conversion therapy ban.
“It is key that measures complement the existing clinical regulatory framework in this space, and that clinicians feel able to deliver legitimate therapies in supporting those experiencing gender dysphoria, especially those under 18,” he said.
The government’s reply was exactly what Singh thought it would be – indirect.
“The UK’s LGBTQ+ community have been given broken promises. We do not have time to delay when abuse against women and LGBTQ+ communities are on the rise,” he says.
Singh went from art dealer to building one of the world’s largest NFT art studios worth over $150 million – investing part of the earnings back into the fight for the LGBTQ+ community and women’s rights.
He owns 100 per cent of his company and his NFT studio was responsible for LVMH’s first NFT, which sold in two seconds. All the $128,000 proceeds were donated to Le MAG Jeunes to help their efforts for the LGBTQ+ youth. This transformed their organisation.
Singh has received threats for doing this work, yet waves it off, contextualising it against the plight of those he seeks to help. “When faceless cowards send anonymous threats it’s not the same level of threat faced by the LGBTQ+ community who face death by their government, their family or colleagues for expressing their sexual orientation,” he insists.
And this staunch onus helps solidify Singh as a far-from-silent ally. When asked about last year’s directives set out by India’s Madras High Court to prohibit conversion therapy (along with other sweeping reforms to respect LGBTQ+ rights) he appreciates the “wonderfulness” of the ruling, yet adds: “It’s now imperative that such a stance is adopted across all of India.’
Singh remains a man of action. “That’s why I have assembled a team and am funding the Supreme Court case to abolish conversion therapy nationally.
“I have enlisted the leading human rights lawyer Ravi Kant and our principal petitioner is the great LGBTQ+ activist Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil.”
Prince Manvendra is India’s first-ever openly gay royal – a former victim of electroshock conversion therapy which, oddly enough, was unsuccessful – while Ravi Kant is an anti-trafficking attorney.
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Could this be the A-Team the LGBTQ+ community in India has been waiting for? The motivation is certainly there. “Let’s get on with it!” Singh urges. “We have a hell of a lot more work to do in order to ensure equal rights prevail.”
Singh is not only ambitious and relentless in these endeavours – he’s global. Circling back to the UK’s nonsense stipulations around a transgender conversion therapy ban, he says it must be fought tooth and nail.
“A liberal democracy such as the UK banning conversion therapy is only the start. Global governments used the pandemic as an excuse to delay LGBTQ+ rights – bollocks to that.”
And what would he say to equalities minister Liz Truss – who was reportedly furious that trans people were left out of the recent ruling yet has been somewhat contradictory on the matter when asked?
“I’d ask her how many more research reports need to be commissioned to identify the harm of conversion therapy! The maths is simple if one single citizen of the world, child or adult, is having their basic human rights limited,” Singh says.
“Any practice which is in place enabling this must be stopped.”