Conversion therapy – spread the word

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2023 National Higher Education Conference
12 October 2022

Conversion therapy refers to the practise of attempting to change a person’s sexuality or gender identity. There are many different techniques, both physical and mental, that can include talking therapies and prayer, but more extreme forms can include exorcism, physical violence such as electric shocks and testosterone injections. There is no reliable scientific evidence that the so-called therapy works and sexuality can be changed.

Every major political party in the United Kingdom (UK) pledged to ban the practice as part of their commitment to the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender plus (LGBT+) individuals during the 2019 general election. The Tory government at Westminster started a consultation on the practice which ended in January 2022.

In April 2022, the UK Government announced that it was entirely scrapping plans for a ban, then quickly backtracked and said elements of the ban would go ahead. The current plan is to ban conversion therapy aimed at changing a person’s sexual orientation – but not their gender identity. In addition, the proposed law will protect under-18s. However, it won’t apply to people over 18 if they’ve consented and haven’t been coerced. This means that LGBT+ people attending higher education institutions are at risk of this abusive practice.

Coercion will be very difficult to define – is a chat with a friendly church leader, coercion? What about if it is accompanied by interventions from other family members? Or if someone gets taken to a camp to learn what a “normal life” is about? When does influencing end and coercion begin?

The backtracking on excluding trans people from the ban on conversion therapy caused a major backlash with 100 organisations calling the decision unacceptable and pulling out of the government’s first LGBT+ international conference due to be held this summer. The conference was then cancelled.

A survey by the Ozanne Foundation found that among those that had undergone some form of conversion therapy:

1)68.7% reported having suicidal thoughts

2)59.8% experienced anxiety and depression, requiring medication

3)41.3% experienced anxiety and depression, not requiring medication

4)40.2% said they had self-harmed

5)24.6% said they had suffered from eating disorders

As higher education staff, we need to be aware of these figures as part of safeguarding. We need to understand the harm this practice does and recognise signs of students who could be vulnerable. This is why awareness raising within our higher education institutions Higher Education Institution (HEI) is so vital.

Conference notes the adoption by 2022 National Delegate Conference of the motion “Trans equality – Louder and Prouder” which included a commitment that UNISON will continue to campaign for a ban on conversion therapy that covers all LGBT+ people.

It calls on the higher education service group executive to work with the national LGBT+ committee to:

1)Produce a factsheet containing facts about conversion therapy and UNISON’s policy and circulate this widely within the higher education service group and UNISON members in universities.

2)Call for conversion therapy to be added to the safeguarding policies of all Higher Education Institutions