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Minister met lobbyists ahead of conversion therapy U-turn, documents reveal

Revealed: Groups linked to anti-trans lobbying met Kemi Badenoch after privately urging equalities minister to drop conversion therapy ban

Adam Ramsay Adam Bychawski
1 April 2022, 2.34pm
Activists hand in a letter to the Cabinet Office calling for a ban on conversion therapy, 2021
ZUMA Press Inc / Alamy Stock Photo

A group that campaigns against trans rights has claimed credit for a government U-turn on ‘conversion therapy’ – as documents released to openDemocracy reveal its behind-the-scenes lobbying.

The LGB Alliance says it met with government ministers Mike Freer and Baroness Stedman-Scott in January this year to express “concerns” about the outlawing of the practice. Ministers had been pledging to ban it since 2018 – but, last night, ITV News revealed that the government now intends to exempt transgender people from protections.

Papers released to openDemocracy under the Freedom of Information Act show the LGB Alliance had earlier met with the equalities minister Kemi Badenoch in July 2020 after writing to her to argue against a ban on conversion therapy. But the government refused to disclose who was there, say what was discussed, or provide papers from the meeting.

Addressing Badenoch ahead of the meeting, the charity claimed that educational material relating to gender identity was “confusing” and said allowing trans people to self-identify was “harmful”.

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In a separate briefing two months later, the organisation suggested to Badenoch that it should not be considered “conversion therapy” for psychotherapists to “examine” the “reasons” for young people being trans – an apparent precursor to the government’s decision to exempt anti-trans conversion therapy from its ban.

The LGB Alliance was founded in 2019 to oppose what it calls “gender ideology”, and has been called a ‘hate group’ by figures including Pride in London, Green Party co-leader Carla Denyer and the gay commentator Owen Jones. The organisation denies being transphobic but it has referred to trans women as “males identifying as females”. It was condemned by other LGBTIQ+ charities as “divisive and polarising”, and came under fire last year for apparently comparing LGBTIQ+ inclusion to bestiality.

Its founder Bev Jackson said in 2020 that she was “building an organisation to challenge the dominance of those who promote the damaging theory of gender identity”, while the organisation has similarly claimed that lesbian, gay and bisexual people’s “interests” are “under threat” from “attempts to introduce confusion between biological sex and the notion of gender”.

openDemocracy analysis of data released by the government additionally shows that the equalities minister had at least three further meetings with people or groups linked to anti-trans campaigning in the two years preceding the U-turn.

NHS England, in line with other expert bodies, has described all forms of conversion ‘therapy’ as ‘harmful’

Badenoch also met with Keira Bell and Paul Conrathe in May 2021 “to discuss how the proposed conversion therapy bill will effect [sic] under 18s questioning their gender,” according to government documents. Bell has made headlines as a rare example of someone who has ‘detransitioned’, and has campaigned to restrict the ability of other young people to access puberty blocking drugs. Conrathe is a lawyer and as well as working on Bell’s case against the clinic that treated her has also previously worked for anti-abortion groups. Twenty years ago, he opposed the equalisation of the age of consent for homosexual activity.

Finally, data released by the government also shows that ministers met with academic Anastassis Spiliadis last summer to discuss the impact of a ban on conversion therapy. Spiliadis’ research has been endorsed by the group Transgender Trend, which today hailed the conversion therapy U-turn and has previously been criticised by LGBTIQ+ charity Stonewall for “trying to spread damaging myths, panic and confusion” among young people.

Ministers also met with groups supportive of trans rights and the banning of conversion therapy, including Stonewall, the Conversion Therapy Surivors Group and the UK Council for Psychotherapy.

NHS England, in line with other expert bodies, has described all forms of conversion ‘therapy’ as ‘harmful’. The practice (also called ‘reparative therapy’ or ‘gay cure therapy’) refers to any therapeutic approach or view that assumes one sexual orientation or gender identity is innately preferable to another, and attempts to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity on that basis. In practice, this means changing people’s orientation or identity to cisgender heterosexuality.

Trans people twice as likely to be targeted

Stonewall CEO Nancy Kelley said: “After years of delay, in which LGBTQIA+ people across the UK have continued to suffer as a consequence of conversion practices, it is devastating that the UK government is breaking its promise to implement an inclusive ban that protects all our communities from abuse. Trans people are nearly twice as likely to be targeted by conversion practices and any ban that is not trans-inclusive abandons those that are most at risk.

“Countries around the world are acting to ban this homophobic, biphobic and transphobic abuse, and it is shameful that the UK government is choosing which LGBTQIA+ people deserve protection. We call on the governments of Wales and Scotland to protect all our communities and make good on their promise to end conversion practices in their own jurisdictions, and on the government of the UK to change its stance on protecting trans people.”

LGBTQ rights campaigner Peter Tatchell told openDemocracy: “It seems very likely that the government was influenced by these trans-hostile lobbyists to abandon its original intention for a comprehensive trans-inclusive prohibition on conversion practices.”

He added: “10 Downing Street has been captured by the anti-trans lobby. This calls into question the prime minister’s commitment to the equality laws that explicitly protect trans people.”

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