EJ Francis Caris-Hamer portrait

Written by EJ-Francis Caris-Hamer

Mx EJ-Francis Caris-Hamer is a PhD student at the University of Essex within the Department of Sociology. Ze has worked, as a qualified teacher, within the education sector for 20 years, working in both 11-19 sector and Higher Education.

I woke up this morning to read the news that a leaked document shows the government decided to U turn on their commitment to ban conversion therapy. In 2018 the conservative government pledged to ban the practice (Government Equalities Office, 2018) and this was confirmed in the Queen’s speech in 2021 (ITV News, 2022). My heart truly sank hearing this news because it felt as though the U turn was a decision based on political interests rather than an evidence-based health decision (Cramer et al, 2008; Independent Forensic Expert Group, 2020). Fast forward to the BBC News, 46 minutes ago, the updated stance reads that the conservative government now does plan to ban conversion therapy practices in England and Wales for sexual orientation identity, but will remain legal for transgender identities (BBC News, 2022). 

What is Conversion Therapy (CT)?

Conversion Therapy (CT) is also known as ‘Cure’ therapy or ‘Reparative’ therapy. It is any “form of treatment or psychotherapy which aims to change a person’s sexual orientation or supress a person’s gender identity” (Stonewall, 2021). These therapies are both unethical and harmful to the person undergoing such treatment and have been condemned by the World Health Organisation and NHS (The Guardian, April 2021) and the United Nations in June 2020 (Stonewall Survey, 2020).

Why is CT a safeguarding issue for educators to be aware of? 

The charity Galop surveyed 5000 LGBTQIA+ people in February 2022. They found that 1/3rd of those surveyed suffered abuse from a relative due to their sexual orientation and/or gender identity and for 2/3rds this started when they were under the age of 18, worryingly 30% were under the age of 11 (Galop, 2022). If you identify as trans or non-binary, you are more likely to be subjected to abuse (43%). Abuse includes verbal threats, harassment, facing threats or actual homelessness, and even physical violence. 5% reported relatives subjecting them to conversion practices and the statistic increases to 11% if the person identified as trans or non-binary. Thus, it is essential that the government should also include gender identity when considering a ban of CT. 

As educators, it is essential to have an awareness of these statistics and practices, just as we perceive FGM, we should be perceiving the findings from Galop and CT practices as coercion and abuse. As Leni Morris, CEO of the charity Galop, states:

“Anti-LGBTQIA+ abuse from family members is often misinterpreted by statutory services as ‘generational differences’ or having ‘different values’ rather than seeing it for what it is really is – domestic abuse” (Brooks, 2022). 

Thankfully and rightly so, today we would never accept such justifications in relation to domestic violence. We need to consider Anti-LGBTQIA+ abuse in the same sense. 

What can we as educators do to support young LGBTQIA+ people?

As part of safeguarding, we need to demand from school leaders the time and space to understand the potential harm that families and CT practices can cause the students we teach. We need to recognise the signs of students who could be vulnerable. It is important to recognise that identifying as part of the LGBTQIA+ community is not a safeguarding issue per se, but Anti-LGBTQIA+ abuse including CT practices is a safeguarding concern and the harmful impact it has on students. Even more importantly, students need to be empowered to spot the signs for themselves, or their peers (in support of the ‘no bystander’ agenda). This can only be achieved through awareness. 

As a PhD researcher addressing queer inclusion in education, I have heard stories of teachers explaining how students have been threatened with CT by their parents or other authority/guardian figures. As a qualified teacher myself, I also recognise the time constraints that educators have when trying to find the time to research and become increasingly aware of the issues surrounding abuse for LGBTQIA+ young people. As a result, I attach two resource documents as a starting point:

Document one – This is for all staff working in education. This document is to inform you regarding the impact of CT practices and support organisations for young people. This document can be used to inform you as an educator to discuss with students and can be converted into a CPD session under the umbrella term safeguarding. 

Document two – Lesson plan which can be delivered to students as part of PSHE/RSE and Citizenship. This increases their awareness and helps them to maintain safeguarding for themselves and their peers regarding CT practices. As educators, we should be campaigning to ensure that such lessons are taught within PSHE. 

Sometimes to ensure effective safeguarding practices, we have to embrace our roles as trailblazers, reaching beyond the limitations of current legislation. The right thing to do is always the right thing to do. 

References:

BBC News (2022) Conversion Therapy: Ban to go ahead but not cover trans people.  Available: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-60947028 Accessed: 01/04/2022.

Brooks, L. (2022) Third of British LGBTQIA+ people experience abuse by relatives. The Guardian. Available: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/apr/01/third-of-young-british-lgbtq-people-experience-abuse-by-relatives   Accessed: 01/04/2022.

Cramer, R.J. Golom, F.D. LoPresto, C.T. Kirkley, S.M. (2008) Weighing the Evidence: Empirical Assessment and Ethical Implications of Conversion Therapy, Ethics & Behavior. 18(1), 93-114. DOI: 10.1080/10508420701713014

Galop (2022) LGBTQIA+ Experiences of Abuse from Family Members. Available: https://galop.org.uk/resource/lgbt-experiences-of-abuse-from-family-members/ Accessed: 01/04/2022.

Government Equalities Office (2018) LGBT Action Plan. Available: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_da ta/file/721367/GEO-LGBT-Action-Plan.pdf Accessed: 27/09/2021.

Independent Forensic Expert Group (2020) Statement on Conversion Therapy. Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine. 72 Available: https://reader.elsevier.com/reader/sd/pii/S1752928X20300366?token=8C9A2BA4EA68E779A55552541F25EF74A6AC11D3BD64468097DE1C0B9C2A010FAA1064483ABF807884D555610390F27B&originRegion=eu-west-1&originCreation=20220402095216 Accessed 01/11/2021.  

ITV News (2022) Exclusive: Government ditches ban on conversion therapy, according to leaked document.  Available: https://www.itv.com/news/2022-03-31/exclusive-government-ditches-ban-on-conversion-therapy-leaked-document-shows Accessed: 01/04/2022.

Stonewall Survey (2020) Conversion Therapy and Gender Identity Survey. Available: www.stonewall.org.uk/system/files/2020_conversion_therapy_and_gender_identity_survey.pdf Accessed: 08/09/2021. 

Stonewall (2021) Conversion Therapy. Available: www.stonewall.org.uk/campaign-groups/conversion-therapy Accessed: 07/09/2021. 

The Guardian (April, 2021) Why are gay conversion practices still legal in the UK? Available: www.theguardian.com/news/audio/2021apr/02/why-is-gay-conversion-therapy-still-legal-uk Accessed: 07/09/2021. 

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