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Exclusive: Liz Truss campaign hints at U-turn on conversion therapy ban

Tory leadership hopeful ‘hates’ the policy she brought forward as equalities minister, suggests Iain Duncan Smith

Adam Bychawski
10 August 2022, 12.21pm

Liz Truss “hates” her own plan to ban anti-LGBTQ+ conversion therapy, the director of her leadership election campaign suggested last night.

Former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith strongly hinted that Truss plans to U-turn on the ban, one of her flagship policies as minister for equalities, while standing in for her at an event hosted by the Conservative Christian Fellowship (CCF) on Tuesday evening. If confirmed, it would be the third major about-face of her campaign.

Asked about the Truss campaign’s policy on the conversion therapy ban, Duncan Smith said: “I hate it. Can I be clear about that? I think when you start banning things like this you enter a maze of problems. And I absolutely believe that Liz is very much there.”

He added: “People are allowed their beliefs. You may not agree with them all the time. But the idea you ban them from this is this kind of ghastly woke culture... I think this is a trap for politicians to head down and it will just make life worse. So Liz is strong on all this woke stuff. And I think she will certainly take the same view as I and many others do.”

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The Truss campaign did not respond to openDemocracy’s requests for further clarity on Wednesday.

The Conservative Party pledged to end conversion therapy in 2018 and Truss, who drafted the original policy on the ban, said that “there should be no place for the abhorrent practice” in October.

Boris Johnson announced that he was dropping plans to ban the practice in April, but was forced into a partial climbdown within hours after a backlash from some of his own MPs and ministers, including Truss. The government then committed to outlaw the practice in the Queen’s Speech a month later, but only after having excluded transgender people from the ban.

LGBTQ+ rights groups condemned Duncan Smith’s comments and said they were “extremely concerned” by Truss’ campaign signalling it would now drop the ban.   

Joe Hawes, chair of the Ozanne Foundation and Dean of St Edmundsbury, told openDemocracy: “To be clear, banning conversion therapy is not about being woke – it’s about a fundamental human right and protecting young people in particular from what can potentially be violence which can cause them life-long harm.

“If Duncan Smith’s comments truly do represent Liz Truss’ view then people have every right to be extremely concerned about the potential overturning of a ban that has had a lot of hard work, intelligent input and debate around it, and many would be extremely angry and disturbed were the ban to be overturned.”

Conversion therapy refers to any therapeutic approach or view that assumes that 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 cis gender heterosexuality.

The practice is viewed as harmful and ineffective by medical professionals and human rights defenders, and is already banned in over 16 countries worldwide.

Truss has faced criticism from Conservative LGBTQ+ members for making a number of anti-trans statements during her leadership campaign.

The foreign secretary did not respond to questions put to all five Tory leadership candidates by LGBTQ+ Conservatives and was later rebuffed when her campaign sought an endorsement from the group. 

She has already been accused of making two major U-turns in the course of her leadership campaign. 

Last week, she was forced to drop plans to cut civil service pay outside London after a furious reaction from Conservative MPs. Truss has also sought to play down her remark that she would not provide “handouts” to help millions of people who will struggle to pay their energy bills, which could rise in October to almost £3,360 a year per household. 

A spokesperson for the LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall told openDemocracy: “Protecting people from abuse should be the minimum that we all aspire to.”

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