“Get on with it”; Arthur Webber on Parliament’s Conversion Therapy Ban debate

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After a series of U-turns at the end of March, the government went back on its promise to ban conversion therapy for all and decided that “for all” needed some caveats. Under the current proposals, it will remain legal to torture: people over the age of 18, asexual people, people who apparently can consent to their own suffering, and transgender people. 

Many LGBT+ people were outraged at these exclusions. It even led to the costly cancellation of the government’s “Safe To Be Me” conference after over 100 LGBT+ organisations pulled out. After all, a country with legalised abuse towards a community will make those within said community feel about as safe as Stuart Little in a cat café. It has also prompted a petition created by Sammantha Harris which reached the required number to be debated in Parliament, and at time of debate sat at over 145,000 signatures.

The prospect of going to Parliament for this debate was daunting for me. Given the number of MPs who have made transphobic comments on social media, there was every possibility that this debate was going to be several hours of people arguing that torturing me should remain legal, actually. I was motivated to attend having viewed the non-binary legal recognition debate from home and been utterly disgusted at the way it had been conducted. There was no guarantee that MPs would behave any better in this debate. But, at the very least, they would have to spew their bile whilst looking a trans person in the eye.

The first Member of Parliament I happened across as I entered Portcullis House was notoriously transphobic. You know the one. When I informed the friend I was meeting of this, he thought I was joking. Parliament’s Most Prominent Transphobe bumping into Politics Twitter’s Most Annoying Transgender was a coincidence that most drama scriptwriters would throw out. We also came across them a couple of times whilst wandering around the parliamentary estate. Wonder if they had a radar. 

Prior to going to the debate, I spent some time chatting to Christian Wakeford (Labour, Bury South). I already knew his stance, as he’d been photographed with the “I support a trans-inclusive ban” sign some weeks before. However, I was pleasantly surprised to learn how deeply he cared about the issue. He was disappointed not to be able to attend due to scheduling conflicts, as he had registered interest in speaking at it before the date was moved. 

I reckon there are many MPs who felt the same. Caroline Lucas (Green, Brighton Pavilion) today submitted a question to the Secretary of State for Health about the devastating impacts of conversion therapy, but didn’t speak at the debate. Many of the MPs photographed with the sign like Wakeford also did not attend, and many who had not did. There is more support for an inclusive ban than we have been led to believe thus far.

As I waited to be allowed into the hall, I could see several MPs who I knew at least had gender critical leanings, or were openly transphobic, buzzing around. This filled me with dread. Was I really going to sit through hours of deflection, of ramblings about sports, toilets, and god knows what else trans people are going to be blamed for as I write this? Thankfully, the answer was no.

In recent years, I have never seen the Labour Party so unified. As a former member, I am all too familiar with factional warfare. In particular, how transphobia is used as a stick to beat the opposing faction with whilst ignoring the presence of it in your own. However, it appeared to have been abandoned at the doors of Westminster Hall. MPs on the left, MPs on the right, MPs being torn in two directions between the battling factions all had the same view. All also very clearly had a deep understanding of the issue, which made a nice change from how trans topics are often addressed by poorly briefed Labour MPs.

Most of the other parties were present, and largely united too. John Nicholson (SNP, Ochil and South Perthshire) gave a harrowing account of an interview he conducted as a journalist with a pastor who had conducted conversion practices on his son, who later died by suicide. Wera Hobhouse (Liberal Democrat, Bath) decried practices as “pseudoscience”. Stephen Farry (Alliance, North Down) rightly raised how most trans people have been bullied and harassed for their gender identities. Hywel Williams (Plaid Cymru, Arfon) said that Wales would welcome the opportunity to legislate for their own ban if the UK government failed to.

Even most Conservative members spoke out in disgust that the government was considering excluding trans people from the ban. The petition was presented by Elliot Colburn (Conservative, Carshalton and Wallington), who opened the debate clearly stating the expert support for the ban. Alicia Kearns (Conservative, Rutland and Melton) gave a passionate speech, concluding that she would amend the bill herself if trans people were not included within it. They were less happy when the concept of ministers using culture wars to distract from political scandals was raised, a tactic we minorities all know and love. Unlikely to cross the floor, I think.

The positivity was not unanimous, and there were a couple of waffly transphobic speeches. I didn’t even realise they were transphobic until several minutes in (despite already being aware of the views of those delivering them) because of how badly written and nonsensical they were. Honestly, if you’re going to be a bigot, at least hire a good speechwriter. There’s enough money in the hatred biz. Even these individuals conceded that it was not ethical to try to force somebody not to be transgender. Granted, they do not believe that the majority of people who say they are trans actually are, so it is a small advancement. But certainly a shift to the Overton window.

The debate was attended by so many, from different parties and nations. Yet all came to the same conclusion: conversion “therapy” is abuse. The overrepresentation of LGB+ MPs (the only openly trans MP, Jamie Wallis, was not present) shows that as much as the media attempt to divide us, we are a united community. 

Minister Mike Freer stated that the legislation ought to be finished in September or October, so the next phase of the battle begins then. Parliament is united, the public are behind them, so get on with it!

Arthur Webber
Arthur Webber is a transgender social media influencer and freelance journalist. A former council candidate and current amateur footballer, he enjoys covering sport and politics through a trans lens. When he’s not doing serious journalism, he’s telling jokes about cutting off his boobs on Twitter.

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