What Galop gets wrong about conversion therapy

Abusive and coercive practices are already illegal. So why do we need a new bill? What is there left to ban?

A new report inadvertently shows the pitfalls of state overreach on gender identity

On the same day that Alister Jack made the Section 35 order to block the Scottish Government’s Gender Recognition Reform Bill, culture secretary Michelle Donelan announced a bill to ban “conversion practices” in England and Wales. She gave a special mention to “those targeted on the basis of their sexuality, or being transgender”.

Let’s be clear: abusive and coercive practices are already illegal. So why do we need a new bill? What is there left to ban? A report published yesterday* by Galop, an LGBT+ charity, perhaps gives us an insight. Galop is not a neutral observer. It heads up the list of 79 LGBT+ organisations that form the Ban Conversion Therapy Coalition, a well organised campaign. The report’s key findings suggested that nearly one in five LGBT+ people in the UK have been subjected to conversion practices; among trans people that figure rose to 43%. 

I am trans and I have spent a considerable time in the trans community. I do not believe that almost half my demographic has been subjected to practices that have not already been banned, should be banned, or can be banned. Such headlines are in my view irresponsible fearmongering, and potentially harmful to young people who might imagine that there is an army of conversion therapists ready to whisk them away for a quack cure.

However, the report itself perhaps sheds more light on what is really happening than what Galop might have anticipated. The questions were not published in the report but some of the answers were, and I quote here:

“I was raped by men who told me I wouldn’t like it (be gay) anymore after that”

Galop Report

“Being sent to a therapist to try and make me not trans. [It] Scarred me and destroyed the relationship with my parents.”

Galop Report

“My partner ended our relationship because of God and then the people from church prayed for us to become straight.”

Galop Report

“Family member limited internet access so [I] wasn’t able to see anything relating to my sexuality.”

Galop Report

According to Galop, this is what conversion practices “look like”. The first is horrific, but already illegal. No new law is needed to criminalise rape. As for the final example, does Galop seriously think that it should be a crime for parents to limit their children’s internet access? Or maybe this happened to an adult, in which case I would suggest that they paid for their own access. The second and third cases should worry us all.

Exploratory therapy should challenge the client. When I transitioned eleven years ago, my therapist led me through the alternatives to transition. I’m glad she did — otherwise I may well now be thinking, “Did I really need to do that?” If, however, I had misinterpreted the reason for her questions, according to Galop, she might have been guilty of conversion therapy. The potential impact on psychotherapy is chilling.

Meanwhile, should it be a crime for anyone to end a relationship? Whether God gets the blame is immaterial. And should the UK State start legislating on the acceptability of prayer ministry, then we can stop giving sermons to those repressive regimes that restrict and control churches which minister within their territories.

Galop’s report is a perhaps unintended warning of where the state might go if it were granted new powers to control professional therapists, religious organisations and family life. Really, we do not need a new law. We just need to enforce those that are already in place.

Debbie Hayton

* This article was first published by Unherd on 27 January 2023: What Galop gets wrong about conversion therapy.

By Debbie Hayton

Physics teacher and trade unionist.

2 replies on “What Galop gets wrong about conversion therapy”

If those four examples of conversion abuse are the best that Galop can come up with, then it seems to me that there isn’t much of a problem.

When I was a teenager in the 1960’s, my parents sent me to a psychiatrist. I didn’t even know their reason, although it might have been because I was gay. To the best of my memory, the psychiatrist just listened to me and didn’t offer any conversion therapy. (His note, however, got me out of the military draft, so it was well worth it.) I can see, however, that young gay people brought up in conservative homes might face pressure to convert. For reasons I have never understood, to some Christians, being gay is the ULTIMATE SIN.

Nonetheless, I find myself thinking, what about freedom of speech? Isn’t conversion therapy just a form of speech? I can see the government banning electroshock treatments, but not conversation between a therapist and patient.

Debbie’s therapist, who helped Debbie examine the pros and cons of transitioning, was doing exactly what every potentially trans person needs: Close examination of their motivations and actions. Today there are thousands of detransitioners who wish that someone had helped them to put on the breaks before they harmed themselves.

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I’m almost over the “discussion” I engaged in on (LOL) Talk Rational, where anything other than absolute and total affirmation of someone’s gender claim was synonymous with conversion therapy, certainly any actual therapy designed to check if the person was aware of all the pitfalls. This was regarding children, and no age limit seemed to make sense to those morons. In the end I gave up and left the forum.

I was suspicious to see the name of this organisation reporting its research – Galop. It’s very easy to read that and think, as Chuck Hagel, former U.S. Secretary of Defence commented, “Gallup is truly an island of independence — it possesses a credibility and trust that hardly any institution has. A reputation for impartial, fair, honest and superb work.”

That is, of course, according to the About page of Gallup, not Galop, which I didn’t find an explanation of, but presumably starts Gay And Lesbian… (Organisation and Protest?). Anyway, I might be a bit conspiracy-theorist in this, but isn’t it a great name to choose to give an unconscious air of “credibility and trust”? Who argues with a Galop poll?

As a general point, there’s a ridiculous fad these days for making a new law against something already illegal instead of doing anything systematic to reduce its likelihood. It surfaced just the other day, again in relation to the trans issue, regarding Brianna Ghey, whose sad plight is wasting precious police time trying to ascertain whether it was just murder, like that’s not particuarly anything to worry about, or a “hate crime”. I suspect if you murder someone, you’re generally not all that fond of them, and I’m at a loss to understand what good this category does. Is it just more demand for special treatment from the trans community? Not only does it not do any good, it also seems to work against its purported intentions. I worry that it emphasizes difference instead of reinforcing the commonality of the value of humanity.

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