The government’s plans for a ban on so-called conversion practices will now also include transgender people, the culture secretary has confirmed.
The policy, which has been proposed several times by successive Conservative governments since 2018 when Theresa May was prime minister, will outlaw attempts to change someone’s sexuality or gender identity in England and Wales.
Labour has criticised the government for not moving faster on tackling the issue after Boris Johnson dropped plans to ban any conversion practice last year, only for his government to perform a partial U-turn hours later after a huge backlash.
The government at the time ruled out including a ban on transgender conversion, amid concerns about parents supporting children who are questioning their gender identity, because of the “complexity of issues and need for further careful thought”.
But in a written statement on Tuesday, the culture secretary, Michelle Donelan, said: “We recognise the strength of feeling on the issue of harmful conversion practices and remain committed to protecting people from these practices and making sure they can live their lives free from the threat of harm or abuse.”
She said it was right that the issue was tackled “through a dedicated and tailored legislative approach”, adding: “The bill will protect everyone, including those targeted on the basis of their sexuality, or being transgender.”
Donelan said the draft bill, which will only ban conversion practices for over-18s “who do not consent and who are coerced or forced to undergo” the practice, would be scrutinised by MPs and peers to help ensure the legislation did not have “unintended consequences”.
The senior Tory MP Alicia Kearns, who has long campaigned on the issue, said she was glad the ban was “finally happening”.
She added: “We have a timeline, we know it’s going to be a fully inclusive ban and I am really delighted, because it is right that we end this heinous crime that allows charlatans and quacks to prey on some of the most vulnerable members of our society.”
Anneliese Dodds, the chair of the Labour party, said: “The Conservatives could have taken action years ago as they promised. Instead, they tied themselves in knots, constantly flip-flopping and delaying … The government must commit to publishing the bill and bringing in this ban immediately.”
Conversion practices refer to any form of treatment or psychotherapy that tries to subdue someone’s sexual orientation or stop them identifying as a different gender to their sex recorded at birth. It can include talking “therapy”, prayer or, in extreme forms, exorcisms, physical violence and food deprivation.
A UK-wide survey four years ago found 5% of 108,000 people who responded to a government survey said they had been offered some form of conversion practices and 2% had undertaken them.
The LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall says conversion practices are based on an assumption that being lesbian, gay, bi or trans is a mental illness that can be “cured”, while the NHS has warned that all forms of the practice are “unethical and potentially harmful”.
The conversion practices announcement comes amid a row over Scotland’s gender recognition reform bill, which the UK government has taken the unprecedented decision to block.