UK Leader Boris Johnson Backs Away from Reversal on 'Conversion Therapy' Ban

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday April 1, 2022

The prime minister of the UK, Boris Johnson, has followed in the footsteps of his predecessors in calling for a ban on conversion therapy, only to then veer away from taking any action to fulfill that rhetoric.

But now, in a whiplash-inducing move, Johnson has reversed course again, in the face of an avalanche of criticism.

"The U-turn comes just hours after it emerged the prime minister had decided against making it a crime to seek to change someone's sexual orientation," UK newspaper the Independent reported.

But Johnson's walking back of the news is half-hearted and incomplete: The Independent noted that "the equivalent practice for trans people will remain legal."

The Times detailed that the rationale behind Johnson's initial intention to scrap the ban was that such a ban "could have unintended consequences for professionals working with children who had gender dysphoria." [Story is behind a paywall.]

Noting that England's National Health Service "and other professional bodies have said that all forms of conversion therapy are 'unethical and potentially harmful,'" the New Statesman recalled that in 2020 Johnson "promised to ban conversion therapy, telling journalists: 'What we are going to do is a study...and we will then bring forward plans to ban it.'"

That study was "published last October," the New Statesman detailed. "The research found that gender and sexuality conversion therapies used similar methods, and that both tended to produce poor mental health outcomes and reinforce stigmas. It recommended that both types of conversion therapy be banned."

The newspaper pointed out that "the ban has been government policy for almost four years and has been promised by ministers on 35 separate occasions, yet no legislation has been introduced.

"In that time, bans have been introduced by eight national governments, and 11 state governments in Australia and the US," the article continued. "In the last four months alone conversion therapy for both gender and sexuality has been banned in Canada, France, Israel and New Zealand."

The Independent revealed that a convenient rationale was at hand to explain away the government's intention to back away yet again from such a ban. "A Downing Street briefing document leaked to the press earlier on Thursday suggested that the U-turn could be blamed on the need to prioritize government legislation from May, given the Ukraine war and cost of living crisis," the article detailed.

"It reportedly warned officials there would be a 'noisy backlash from LGBT groups and some parliamentarians when we announce we do not intend to proceed.'"

That was an understatement; even conservative politicians piled on, with one rightward Member of Parliament, Alice Kearns, acidly observing, "We've had time to vote that lobsters have sentience — tell me how that is more important than telling gay and trans people that they deserve to be loved."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.