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Stonewall among 80 groups to pull out of government’s LGBTQ conference amid ‘conversion’ therapy row

Speaking to Attitude, Cleo Madeleine of Gendered Intelligence says recent u-turns on a 'conversion' therapy ban are evidence of a "lack of care" for the LGBTQ community.

By Alastair James

Words: Alastair James; pictures: Pexels

Stonewall and more than 80 other LGBTQ organisations have pulled out of the UK Government’s ‘Safe to Be Me’ conference over its handling of a ban on ‘conversion’ therapy.

A Stonewall statement released today (4 April) says the decision has been made with a “heavy heart” and extends the offer of the organisation returning if “the Prime Minister reverts to his promise for a trans-inclusive ban on conversion therapy.”

It follows Gendered Intelligence, a charity supporting trans youth, who withdrew from the conference in January over a lack of legal recognition for trans people. They called on other LGBTQ organisations to do the same. 

“We cannot in good conscience back Safe To Be Me”

On Thursday (31 March), ITV reported on a leaked briefing document indicating the government was dropping long-promised and delayed plans to ban the practice of trying to change someone’s sexuality or gender identity.

Following a fierce backlash, the government then rowed back on this and said they would work on a ban, but that it would exclude trans people. 

Stonewall says it has been left with no choice but to withdraw following the debacle.

“That the Prime Minister would so casually walk away from four years of promises to the LGBTQ+ community is appalling, and we cannot in good conscience back Safe To Be Me at a time when our community’s trust in the UK Government is shattered,” it reads.

It says the new plans for a partial ban are “out of step with every other nation that has recently introduced a ban on conversion therapy, and ignores all credible international research that is available”. 

Speaking to Attitude on Friday (1 April) Gendered Intelligence’s Cleo Madeleine said the UK Government’s u-turns “evidences the lack of care” for the LGBTQ community from Number 10, who she adds are using LGBTQ issues as a “political football”.

The news that the government was dropping its ban, first promised in 2018 by Theresa May whose words were echoed by Boris Johnson in 2020, was “shocking,” according to Cleo, but also “grimly unsurprising given the given the government’s track record on walking back promises to the LGBTQ community.”

Cleo highlights the “callousness” of walking back on promises when the Minister for Equalities, Mike Freer, and the Minister for Women and Equalities, Liz Truss, have both committed to a ban on several occasions. 

In fact, Freer was on his feet in Parliament on Wednesday saying the government remained “wholly committed” to enacting a ban.

By leaving trans people out of their new plans, Cleo goes on to say, the government is using them as a “bartering chip” and is astonished at the way the government is being so “nakedly divisive”.

A new report by Galop, a charity supporting LGBTQ victims and survivors of abuse says that of the 5,000 LGBTQ people they spoke to 11 percent of trans and non-binary people experienced ‘conversion’ therapy from family members. It was 5 percent for others.

The government’s own research also indicates that trans people are more likely to go through ‘conversion’ therapy, with 13 percent having gone through it been offered it compared to 7 percent for cisgendered people. 

Regarding recent comments by Boris Johnson on trans issues (including a joke made just hours before the Conservative MP, Jamie Wallis, came out as trans), Cleo wonders, “whether this is shoring up a position in anticipation of a Tory leadership contest… I think it certainly is using trans people as a political football to distract from other issues.

“We’ve got Party-gate, the cost of living crisis is about to really start biting, and everybody’s talking about transgender people! Because it’s a reliable hot button issue.”

The debacle comes just months ahead of the UK government’s ‘Safe To Be Me’ conference, which is supposed to bring members from across the world together to discuss how to change things going forward. 

However, if reports are to be believed, things aren’t going so well. 

Gendered Intelligence pulled out of the conference in January citing a lack of legal recognition for trans people as a contributing factor. They called on other organisations to do the same. 

It also, Cleo shares with Attitude, has to do with statements made regarding ‘conversion’ therapy legislation from the UK equalities watchdog, the Equality and Human Right Commission. They suggested pausing legislation arguing it lacked clarity.

Cleo told Attitude ahead of today’s announcement she wouldn’t be surprised of a wider boycott in light of the U-turns and if the government doesn’t return to plans for a fully inclusive ban.

But even if it did, would that be seen as genuine?

“I think it will be seen with serious scepticism, but we were very much there already. It’s hard to overstate the loss of trust that’s happened between community leaders, community organisations, and the government. Calls to boycott were happening before the conversion therapy walk back. I suspect that they will continue regardless of what the government says now.

She thinks what’s needed from the government now is tangible action, rather than just words.

“I think it’s not until that happens, that trust can be rebuilt again.”

Despite this dire assessment of the situation, Cleo remains hopeful that things can change. But she warns that “it really has every chance of being the nail in the coffin for any willingness for the LGBT sector to work with this establishment.”

The current position is lamentable. The ‘Safe To Be Me’ conference could be used to great effect an help bring in real change, not just here but globally. Cleo has a similar view. 

“This conference has the potential to really repair the UK’s reputation on the international stage. And I think in great part, that’s why so many people are moving towards a boycott, because until there’s a sense that the government genuinely wants to support the LGBTQ community, we don’t want to do the work of repairing that reputation.

“But you’re absolutely right. In another world, it could be amazing.”

Attitude has approached the UK government for comment.