LGBT groups quit UK conference over failure to ban trans conversion practices

More than 80 charities to boycott government event as Boris Johnson criticised for ‘broken promise’

More than 80 LGBT and HIV charities, including Stonewall and the Terrence Higgins Trust, are to boycott the UK government’s first global LGBT conference, in response to the decision to exclude trans people from a ban on conversion practices.

In a statement on Monday, the charity Stonewall said it was withdrawing its support for the Safe to Be Me conference due to “the prime minister’s broken promise on protecting trans people from the harms of conversion therapy”.

It added it would only be able to participate in the event “if the prime minister reverts to his promise for a trans-inclusive ban on conversion therapy”.

The statement continued: “Trans people are no less worth of respect, care and protection than cis lesbian, gay and bi people. If the UK government cannot stand behind and respect all LGBTQ+ people’s fundamental human rights, it should not be convening an LGBTQ+ rights conference on the global stage.”

The statement is being supported by more than 80 LGBT charities and organisations across the UK, including the LGBT Foundation, Mermaids, and the Scottish Trans Alliance.

Twenty-three HIV charities and organisations, including the Terrence Higgins Trust, have also confirmed they will not take part in the conference. The Terrence Higgins Trust said: “The government’s decision to exclude trans people from the ban on conversion therapy is completely unacceptable.

“Trans rights are human rights – progress without or at the expense of trans people is not progress. We stand together and will not be divided.”

In a statement on Monday, the government defended its move and insisted it was doing more work on outlawing trans conversion practices. It said the delay was because it had concerns about “unintended consequences”, particularly for under-18s.

But some Tory MPs expressed their unhappiness. Alicia Kearns, the MP for Rutland and Melton, said: “To say this is wrong is an understatement. It bows to those concocting division between LGBT communities, to those promulgating the very worst narratives about our trans friends. What makes trans people deserve to be abused? That’s the [question] to every person supporting this decision.”

The boycott comes in response to two embarrassing U-turns by the government. On Thursday, ITV obtained a leak of a Downing Street briefing paper titled Conversion Therapy Handling Plan, which said Boris Johnson had agreed to not move forward with legislation banning conversion practices, despite the fact the government promised to outlaw them four years ago.

However, after a furious backlash from Conservative ministers and campaigners, the prime minister performed a second U-turn by saying the ban would be included in the Queen’s speech in May after all. However, the legislation would only include banning gay conversion practices and not trans conversion practices.

On Monday, the Lib Dems accused the government of “shredding our country’s reputation” when it came to LGBT+ rights, when it should be “leading the world”.

The government has been publicising Safe to Be Me, due to take place in June, as the UK’s first global LGBT conference, saying it will focus on “making legislative reform, tackling violence and discrimination, and ensuring equal access to public services for LGBT people”. The fact the conference, which has been billed by the government as taking “aim at the prejudices LGBT people still face”, faces a boycott is particularly embarrassing for the Conservative party.

Since the announcement of the boycott, the government has decided to cancel the Safe to Be Me Conference, saying that it would be impossible to proceed without the cooperation of LGBT charities.

A government spokesperson said: “It is disappointing to see partners withdraw from an international conference that focused on the fundamental human rights issues facing LGBT people around the world, and as a result it will not be possible to proceed with the Safe to Be Me Conference.

“We remain committed to strengthening LGBT rights and freedoms and will continue to support human rights defenders globally and to influence and support countries on the path to decriminalisation.

“The UK will continue to engage extensively with our international partners, and we will continue to use our position on the world stage to push for global change for LGBT people.”


Tobi Thomas

The GuardianTramp

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