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Wales considers seeking new powers for an entire ban on conversion therapy

Wales considers seeking new powers for an entire ban on conversion therapy

The Welsh Government is considering seeking the devolution of further powers in order to ban all types of LGBTQ+ conversion therapy, deputy minister Hannah Blythyn MS has said.

Ms Blythyn is giving a statement to the Senedd today, Tuesday, April 26, after the UK Government failed to ban so-called “conversion therapy” for transgender people on April 1. Her statement is outlining the next steps towards banning the controversial practice in Wales.

Ms Blythyn, deputy minister for social partnership and one of Wales’ highest profile LGBTQ+ politicians, said that there were several steps the Welsh Government could take to make conversion therapy “a thing of the past” using its current powers and that she would also seek legal advice on ending conversion therapy unilaterally.

Read more: More hospital appointments will be done online – Wales’ health minister details plan to cut waiting lists

Speaking to WalesOnline, she said : “We will do everything we can within our powers to ensure that this can happen. It’s not just a political priority, it’s also a personal priority for me as a member of the community.

“If the UK Government didn’t go far enough, we have always said we would seek to do what we can within our powers and also push for further powers if we need them.”

The UK Government said it wouldn’t ban conversion therapy practices for both sexual orientation and gender identity on March 31. A day later, it partially reversed this promising to ban conversion therapy for sexual orientation but not gender identity.

Conversion therapy, according to LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall, is “any form of treatment or psychotherapy which aims to change a person’s sexual orientation or to suppress a person’s gender identity.” The practice is based on the idea that being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender is a mental illness and therefore can be cured.

Health and culture are devolved issues. However the criminal justice system is not. Ms Blythyn said this is a challenge for introducing a total ban in Wales.

She said: “We need to be clear where we can legislate and where we can bring in regulations. It’s potentially a public health issue but it’s also a justice matter. I’m really keen for us to progress this as quickly as we can as I think it’s the right thing to do. The Welsh Government needs to be clear where we stand and how we support the transgender community in Wales both in public health but also what other powers we may need for a total ban.”

Ms Blythyn said the Welsh Government is working with the community, survivors of conversion therapy as well as advisors to governments in Canada and New Zealand where bans have already been introduced. Some who oppose a transgender conversion therapy ban say that it might impact therapy for young people questioning their gender identity. Ms Blythyn believes this view is wrong.

She said: “Gender affirming therapy and gender transition healthcare are not conversion practices. There’s very clear professional guidance and regulation to support and protect people. I think it’s very misleading and incorrect to conflate the two and misinformation is creating false narratives about that. Bans around LGBTQ+ conversion therapy is a very different thing.”

This view is held by both the NHS and all major counselling and psychotherapy groups which considers all conversion therapy practices unethical and potentially harmful.

Polling has shown significant support for a ban on all types of conversion therapy including across political parties. Ms Blythyn believes there is cross-party support for banning all types of conversion therapy in the Senedd.

She said: “It’s really important that where we can find common ground we push the boat. In the Welsh Government, we very much support the trans community. Trans women are women, trans men are men, and non-binary identities are valid.”

People from religious backgrounds are more likely to be offered conversion therapy. About 10% of Christian and 20% of Muslim respondents to a 2018 UK Government survey said they had been offered or undergone conversion therapy. Some 6% of those with no religion said the same.

The Welsh Government plans to make Wales the most LGBTQ+ friendly nation in Europe. When asked if this aim is still achievable given the current position of Boris Johnson’s government, Ms Blythyn said: “We will do everything we can within our powers to ensure that this can happen. Our LGBTQ+ Action Plan. It’s not just words, it’s action and that includes the entire community. The trans community has to be part of that and a total ban has to be part and parcel.”

“I would like to see a country in the future where I don’t have to think whether it’s safe to hold my wife’s hand in public, where someone doesn’t think it’s okay to email me and my wife telling us to leave one another or point me to where I can go for conversion therapy. I’m under no illusions though. We’ve come a long way but there’s clearly work to be done.”

In her statement, Ms Blythyn said the Welsh Government and NHS Wales have signed up to a ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ (MoU) with the Coalition Against Conversion Therapy. Organisations who sign the Memorandum and work in the provision of mental or psychological health delivery or commissioning, such as the NHS, will commit to ensure they do not commission or provide conversion therapy in Wales.

Dr Frank Atherton, Chief Medical Officer for Wales and Judith Paget, Chief Executive of NHS Wales said: “The Welsh Government and NHS Wales fully support the banning of LGBTQ+ conversion therapy, witnessed through our signing of the MoU with the Coalition Against Conversion Therapy. We stand united in our desire to make this abhorrent practice illegal and believe this will offer an important opportunity to support those at risk of conversion therapy as well as victims and survivors.”

And Ms Blythyn said: “In addition to seeking legal advice to determine all the levers we have in Wales to end the practice of conversion therapy unilaterally; we will educate and raise awareness of the horrors and ineffectiveness of conversion therapy practices by establishing a dedicated campaign in Wales.

“Alongside this, work will be undertaken to better understand the impact of conversion ‘therapy’ on survivors to enable support services to be improved and we will establish a working group of experts, to include representatives from faith communities; the health and social care sector; and children and young people’s representatives, alongside LGBTQ+ people to help with this work and advise on key elements as a ban is developed.”

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