Efforts Aim to Ban Conversion Therapy in UK, Israel

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson at Downing Street in London
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called conversion therapy “abhorrent” and pledged to move on banning the practice.
Reuters/ Hannah Mckay

A global effort to ban conversion therapy has touched down in the United Kingdom and Israel, with both nations inching closer to eradicating the practice following an international plea by the United Nations.

By a 42-36 margin, Israel’s Knesset on July 22 cleared the first hurdle in the fight to ban conversion therapy, a discredited and dangerous practice aimed at changing a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. However, it is not immediately clear whether the measure in Israel encompasses conversion therapy targeting an individual’s gender identity. Several news outlets, including local and international sources, specifically referred to “gay” conversion therapy.

The conversion therapy ban in Israel is facing opposition from the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism, which responded by vowing to push bills that lawmakers would object to, according to the BBC. The slim margin of passage for the first vote is a sign that the bill could meet resistance down the line.

The measure now must clear two more hurdles before it becomes law.

Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on July 20 said a plan is in place to ban “gay conversion therapy” once the government completes a study related to it, which he said will be published “over the summer,” according to the BBC.

“On the gay conversion therapy thing, I think that’s absolutely abhorrent and has no place in a civilized society, and has no place in this country,” Johnson said.

According to the BBC, leaders of Gendered Intelligence, a group that serves transgender youth, expressed hope that Johnson made a mistake when he only referred to “gay” conversion therapy. There is optimism that the forthcoming measure would also protect transgender and non-binary individuals from the insidious practice.

The push to ban conversion therapy in the UK is not new. In 2018, the government launched an LGBTQ equality plan that included several queer rights initiatives on the agenda, including a pledge to ban conversion therapy. A renewed focus on the issue, however, appears to be emerging.

The two nations signaled forward progress on the issue one month after the UN’s Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, Victor Madrigal-Borloz, placed a spotlight on the issue when he called for a worldwide ban on conversion therapy.

“The degrading nature of many conversion therapy practices, including physical abuse, electro-shock therapy, pseudo-medical procedures, and the use of anti-LGBT epithets and slurs, contribute to an overall dehumanizing environment towards persons with diverse SOGI,” Madrigal-Borloz said.

Banning conversion therapy remains a patchwork effort in the US, where states have increasingly moved to enforce comprehensive bans on the practice. Twenty states, along with Puerto Rico and Washington, DC, have barred conversion therapy thus far.

Conversion therapy is also the subject of attention on social media platforms following the surfacing of Facebook pages that have pushed anti-LGBTQ messages arguing in favor of employing the practice. Facebook and Instagram have responded with vows to ban the promotion of conversion therapy from their respective platforms.

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