Keir Starmer has a reputation for changing his mind. But on one issue at least, the Labour leader remains worryingly consistent. Addressing an LGBT+ Labour meeting in Parliament this week, Starmer declared, ‘Labour governments and the LGBT+ movement have a history of achieving incredible things together.’ His own contribution to this long march of progress has already been determined. Starmer yet again pledged that a Labour government will outlaw all forms of conversion therapy.
Sir Keir is adamant that, on his watch, a conversion therapy ban will be ‘trans inclusive’. In other words, it won’t just outlaw attempts to turn homosexuals straight but, crucially, it will most likely make it illegal to try and change someone’s gender identity. Under a Labour government, facts be damned. If a man thinks he is a woman, it will be against the law to try and persuade him otherwise.
This trans-inclusivity matters to the Labour party because without it, there’s little to justify calls for a ban on conversion therapy. The days of chemical castration and electro-shock therapy are, thankfully, long gone. A handful of unhappy adults might seek out a vicar to pray with them, but there is no evidence that gay people are being routinely subjected to conversion therapy.
If it doesn’t include transgender people, Starmer’s proposed ban is pointless. But even here, evidence of coercive practice is scant. The latest government commissioned research into the scale of conversion therapy included only six trans or ‘nonbinary’ people who said they had been offered conversion therapy in the past three decades. Such small numbers suggest this is hardly a crisis. Starmer’s trans-inclusive conversion therapy ban might then be less about reality and more about sending a message, but it should trouble us nonetheless.
The line between ‘conversion therapy’ and plain old ‘therapy’ is vanishingly thin while the consequences of transitioning are monumental.