Parliamentary launch of the Second Memorandum of Understanding Against Conversion Therapy Version 2 – July 4th 2018

On Wednesday the 4th of July Jo Coker, Julie Sale and I attended the parliamentary launch of the Memorandum of Understanding Against Conversion Therapy version 2, referred to as the MoU2, on behalf of COSRT. This event was hosted by Rt Hon Ben Bradshaw MP and was held in The Strangers’ Dining Room at the House of Commons.

What makes this launch such an important step forward for LGBTQ+ rights? The answer is that the MoU2 seeks to expand the remit of the original Memorandum of Understanding Against Conversion Therapy and to correct what many felt was an important omission. The original MoU was published in November 2015, with the support of many of the major therapeutic, counselling and medical organisations in the UK. It was, however, incomplete, as protection against conversion therapy for transgender and non-binary individuals was not included at that time, nor was there any mention of protection for asexual or aromantic people. The original MoU only specifically protected heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual people from conversion therapy, on the basis that no one sexual orientation should be preferred to any other.

More than two years of further discussion and negotiation led to an agreement on the content of MoU 2, which was published by signatory organisations in October last year, and which now offers protections for the originally omitted groups.

  • For the purpose of this document, sexual orientation refers to the sexual or romantic attraction someone feels to people of the same sex, opposite sex, more than one sex, or to experience no attraction. 
  • For the purposes of this document, gender identity is interpreted broadly to include all varieties of binary (male or female), nonbinary and gender fluid identities.

Memorandum of Understanding on Conversion Therapy in the UK Version 2 October 2017

The Parliamentary launch on the 4th of July 2018 was organised to demonstrate the necessary parliamentary support and to generate a wider audience which would substantiate and promote the document. The event was made even more auspicious because the results of the government’s National LGBT Survey had been published on the previous day. The survey, with over 108,000 respondents, is the largest of its type in the world and gives a detailed insight into the lives and experiences of LGBT individuals living in the UK today. This fortunate coincidence in timing gave the speakers the opportunity to review and to utilise information gleaned from the survey during the launch of MoU2.

As well as the host, the Rt Hon Ben Bradshaw MP, there were three other speakers:

Lyndsey/Igi Moon: Chair of the Coalition against Conversion Therapy

Baroness Williams of Trafford: Minister for Equalities

Crispin Blunt MP: Secretary, All-Party Parliamentary Group on Global LGBT Rights

Each speaker was able to draw on some figures from the survey, the results of which indicated that LGBT equality had not yet been achieved, and that the use of conversion therapy on trans and non-binary individuals was higher than had previously been believed.

The statistics and results of the survey can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/national-lgbt-survey-summary-report

What was significant, and perhaps unexpected by many, was the percentage of trans respondents who had been offered conversion therapy (5%) and the percentage of respondents who had actually undergone this type of therapy (2%). Moreover, the results indicated that conversion therapy was more likely to be offered by faith organisations and, more surprisingly, by some medical and healthcare providing support for the importance of including gender protections in the MoU2.

The survey helped underline the need for proper education on matters of diversity for all healthcare providers; improved training is felt to be an essential tool in preventing the use of conversion therapy. Appropriate education on diversity is an underlying principle of the MoU2 and one which all signatories have agreed to develop and implement within their own professional bodies.

Igi gave an emotional response, to Ben’s welcome statement, on behalf of the signatory organisations and the supporters of MoU2. Their underlying message to everyone was the need for three things to ensure full implementation of the principles of MoU2 – “Education, Education and Education”

Baroness Williams disclosed that, only twelve months ago, she was ignorant about the extent of conversion therapy within the UK, believing it to have been eradicated. She reinforced the professional opinion that it was harmful, does not work, and has no place in UK healthcare provision. Baroness Williams then went on to expand on the government’s proposed Action Plan to improve the lives of LGBT people, which includes the appointment of a national LGBT health advisor.

Crispin welcomed the additional £4.5 million in funding for the domestic implementation of the government’s Action Plan. He also drew attention to the need for further international funding, because the societal change we have witnessed in the UK over the past 60 years has not been replicated elsewhere in the world. In many places homosexuality is still criminalised and, in some countries, incurs the death penalty.

In general the survey also shows that LGBT people are less satisfied with life in the UK than is the general population. LGBT people avoid being open about their relationships because they fear a negative public reaction. A measure of this was that many felt uncomfortable even holding hands with their partner in public, something to which Crispin, Ben and many others in the room could relate.

Ben brought the event to a close and thanked everyone for attending. There was then the opportunity to speak with other similarly-interested people representing bodies who are both signatories to the MoU2 and supporters of the document’s principles.

This launch of MoU2 was a great success. The results of the National LGBT Survey give further support to the argument for the full implementation of the MoU2. There is undoubtedly still a long way to go before sexual and gender diversity is fully accepted here in the UK but this event was a positive step in the right direction.

The primary principles of the MoU2 are that:

  • Conversion and reparative therapy is harmful, does not work, and the practice must be eliminated.
  • Diversity education and training for all healthcare workers and therapists is essential.
  • Individuals who seek to explore their gender identity and/or sexual orientation conflicts can be supported by appropriately trained therapists and healthcare providers. Paragraph 6 of the MoU2 is very clear on this matter.

The MoU 2 can be found here:

https://www.cosrt.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/MoU2_FINAL.pdf