Not Safe To Be Me

Did you hear about Safe To Be Me? If you’re not on LGBT+ social media, probably not. It was the Conservative government’s sole manifesto commitment to the LGBT+ community, the establishment of an international conference to promote LGBT+ rights.

The problem with that is that right now, one of the worst offenders against LGBT+ rights in Europe is the Conservative government. The UK is no longer topping lists of the best countries for LGBT+ people to live; it’s more likely to be listed alongside Hungary, Russia and Poland as a place where LGBT+ people are the victims of demonisation in the name of right-wing populism.

The final straw for the UK’s LGBT+ community was the government’s plan to abandon its commitment to banning dangerous and discredited conversion therapy.

Conversion therapy is a misnomer. There’s nothing therapeutic about it: it’s a form of torture, physical or mental, designed to try and change someone’s innate sexuality or gender identity. We’ve known since the late 1960s that it doesn’t work and does lasting damage to its victims, and most civilised countries either have or are going to ban it. Such a ban doesn’t affect actual therapy, or informal forms of therapy such as exploring your feelings with a counsellor or religious figure. It just bans torture.

A ban on CT was an easy PR win for the Tories, so long cast as the “nasty party” with regards to the LGBT+ community. But with one eye on the upcoming local elections, the Tories have clearly decided to follow the US Republican example and use culture war tactics to distract from their many failures: that whole “let the bodies pile high” thing, the corruption, the fact that Money Saving Expert Martin Lewis has gone from recommending energy deals to advising pensioners on how not to die from the cold this year.

So the UK Government decided to kill the ban as a signal to the right-wing anti-LGBT+ mob. This was from the very top; the equalities minister wasn’t informed. After the inevitable and very vocal backlash, a backlash the government didn’t expect, it announced a partial U-turn:  it would ban conversion therapy, but only for gay and lesbian people. It would still be okay to torture trans people.

The government clearly hoped that the LGBT+ community would accept the partial win and continue with its support for Safe To Be Me later this year. The government was wrong. The entire UK LGBT+ sector – more than 120 LGBT+ organisations – and all the major sponsors of the conference pulled their support in protest.

It’s not just the LGBT+ organisations who want conversion therapy banned. The British Psychological society wants it banned. The Royal College of Psychiatrists too. The British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy. The British Medical Association. The mental health charity Mind. And many more. All these organisations want to see conversion therapy banned not just for gay and lesbian people, but for trans people too.

Because torture is torture no matter who you do it to.

Their message was simple and should be uncontroversial: trans people have human rights too. Article 3 of the Human Rights Convention (ECHR) declares that nobody shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment. There’s no caveat saying “unless they’re trans”. Conversion therapy is clearly in breach of Article 3, which is why the government was going to ban it.

Instead, it messed up and mobilised the entire LGBT+ community. I can’t stress this enough: every single LGBT+ charity and advocacy group stands with trans people here. The only exception is the LGB Alliance, which of course is not a genuine LGBT+ organisation. That made Safe To Be Me untenable and potentially disastrous for the UK government; yesterday, they cancelled it.

For years the right wing press, and shamefully some of the left-wing press too, has peddled the myth that the LGBT+ community is divided over trans rights. There are outliers, as there are in any group of people: there were gay men opposed to equal marriage, for example. But the supposed widespread division is not there. To say otherwise is to perpetuate right-wing culture war bullshit.

But again, we’re getting false both-sidesism here. One one side we have decades of evidence, the testimony of victims, and the entire medical and psychological establishment. On the other, a handful of screeching bigots. These things are not equal, and shouldn’t be given equal airtime or column inches.



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