Published:

Sue Pascoe was a candidate for Yorkshire and the Humber in the 2019 European elections.

The consultation to ban so called “conversion therapy” closed on February 4. The Government Equality Office will now analyse the responses before preparing legislation which is expected before the Government’s flagship global LGBT+ “Safe to be Me” London conference commencing June 29.

The Prime Minister has called this an abhorrent practice and the UN regards it as a practice of “torture”. So what is it? It is when someone tries to exert coercive pressure over another to try and suppress, cure or change their sexual orientation or gender identity. It can range from pseudo-psychological treatments, deliverance prayer, to in extreme cases, electric shock treatment and “corrective” rape.

In my case I was six when my mother tried to crucify me to prove that God did not believe what I was telling her; that I was a girl and not a boy. I was 15 when my mother and the doctors ignored what I was telling them about my innate feelings and operated on my variation in sex characteristic condition to make me more functionally male.

I was 20 when I went to see a therapist asking for help to change my gender and I was given “conversion therapy”, and made to be totally ashamed of who I was. So I went into the world as best I could hiding my true self, deep inside suffering life-long pain resulting from these “conversion practices”.

I’m 61 now and finally after many years I have managed to fully transition to be Sue. I’m at peace with myself having aligned all my sex characteristics as best I possibly can.

I’m not alone having suffered conversion therapies. In 2017, the Government launched the largest national survey of LGBT people in the world to date of over 108,000 people.

It found “Five percent of respondents had been offered ‘conversion’ therapy (but did not take it up) and a further 2% had undergone it. These figures were higher for trans respondents (e.g. 9% of trans men been offered it and 4% had undergone it). Faith organisations were by far the most likely group to have conducted conversion therapy (51%), followed by healthcare professionals (19%)”, then parent, guardian or other family member (16 per cent). The survey showed that “Transgender respondents were more likely to have reported having undergone or been offered conversion therapy (13%) than cisgender respondents (7%).”

This information was reported by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to the UN in 2019. This formed submissions from countries all over the world all showing similar results.

One study of 27,000 transgender respondents in the US found of the nearly 80 per cent that had discussed their gender identity with a religious adviser or secular therapist, 20 per cent had been subject to conversion therapies – and these had “shown that gender identity conversion efforts are associated with adverse mental health outcomes, including suicide attempts.” As therapists and religious practitioners are all online nowadays, what happens globally can now come into our front room or bedrooms.

So it’s really not surprising that the Scottish Human Rights Commission issued a statement to the Scottish Parliament in August 2021, based on the UK being a signatory to the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Ratified by the UK in 1988, it said: “the UN Committee Against Torture has expressed its grave concern in relation to reports about the existence of “conversion therapies.” Based on the obligations set forth in the Convention, the Committee has determined that States are required to:

a. Take the necessary legislative, administrative and other measures to guarantee respect for the autonomy and physical and personal integrity of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons and prohibit the practice of so-called “conversion therapy,” and other forced, involuntary or otherwise coercive or abusive treatments against them”

With this evidence and the EHRC being described as the UK’s “National Human Rights Institution, we monitor the UK’s compliance with the seven United Nation’s human rights treaties it has agreed to follow.

It was quite extraordinary to find the EHRC submitting a statement on conversion therapy which said that due to “the lack of evidence about conversion therapy in relation to being transgender and the importance of any ban not preventing appropriate support for individuals with gender dysphoria”, no ban should take place for gender identity at the same time as the ban on conversion therapy for sexual orientation.

What is perverse is that Minister Freer will be steering this legislation through Parliament, and as the consultation document itself makes clear, therapeutic support for people with gender dysphoria will be unaffected and that it is right and proper that exploratory therapies and consultations are required in order to determine if someone is or isn’t gender dysphoric.

What is also very strange is the EHRC ignored the qualitative study commissioned by the Government Equality Office from Coventry University and the Stonewall Gender Identity Conversion Therapy Study of 2020, both of which evidenced conversion therapy harms against transgender people happening in the UK now.

So what’s going on? Frankly, how much evidence of harm do you need? Are we also to ignore our UN treaty obligations? The call for more evidence by the EHRC appears to be just a way of trying to put the gender identity part of the ban into the long grass. For our human rights organisation to do this is shameful.

But the EHRC then gets itself into very dangerous territory. It says: “The Government should make clear that psychological, medical and healthcare staff can continue 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.”

I’m not sure if the EHRC realises that if a person has been diagnosed as gender dysphoric and you then try to “reduce distress and reconcile a person to their biological sex”, as it suggests, this could be tantamount to trying to cure, suppress or change a person’s gender identity if a pre-determined outcome is set by a clinician to do this – and that is conversion therapy!

I am deeply troubled with the breakdown in trust that has now occurred with large swathes of the LGBT+ community and the EHRC as a result of its statements on conversion therapy and Scottish gender recognition. There have also been significant allegations of bias against transgender people made against the Commissioners in the online magazine Vice, with whistleblower revelations and staff leaving the organisation as a result.

Major LGBT+ charities are now refusing to work further with the EHRC. This is not sustainable especially not with the Government’s “Safe to be Me” conference to be held soon. I too have lost trust and confidence in the leadership of the EHRC to act to properly protect the rights of LGBT+ people.

I retain trust in Lord Herbert, the PM’s LGBT+ Envoy and Minister Freer. I was pleased with his response to everyone’s concerns about the EHRC statement where he posted on twitter:- “Everyone should be free & safe to be themselves. No one should be subjected to conversion practices because of who they are or who they love. Trans people will be protected by the upcoming Bill to ban conversion therapy practices.”

I trust and pray the legislation will reflect this and we will get a comprehensive ban on all types of conversion therapy practices covering both sexual orientation and gender identity.