The UK government is currently debating a national ban on “conversion therapy”. “Conversion therapy” refers to practices which seek to ‘convert’ individuals from identifying as non-heterosexual to heterosexual and from identifying as trans or gender diverse to cisgender.
In opposition to the ban, several faith-based groups have argued that such a ban would be a ‘direct threat to religious freedom’. In March, the Evangelical Alliance – a network of evangelical churches in the UK – wrote to the Prime Minister to express its concern that a ban on “conversion therapy” could criminalise clergy and violate freedom of religion or belief.
On 15 April, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Dr Ahmed Shaheed, intervened in the debate in an address to UK Members of Parliament.
Dr. Shaheed’s statement made clear that “the right to freedom of religion or belief does not limit the state’s obligation to protect the life, dignity, health and equality of LGBTQ+ persons”, and that “banning such discredited, ineffective, and unsafe practices that misguidedly try to change or suppress people’s sexual orientation and gender is not a violation of the right to freedom of religion or belief under international law” due to the harmful nature of the practice.
Dr. Shaheed argued further that: “The testimonies of survivors of conversion practices are chilling. Operating on the basis that there is something ‘wrong’, ‘sinful’ or ‘pathological’ in non-heterosexual-cis forms of sexual and gender identity, LGBT+ persons are assailed with physical and emotional abuse that have haunting consequences.”
Last year, Humanists International called for a global ban on “conversion therapy” at the UN Human Rights Council, and refuted the arguments that a ban on “conversion therapy” would interfere with the right of freedom of religion or belief. In March 2021, Humanists International joined Humanists of Puerto Rico in expressing its public support for a bill that would ban “conversion therapy” in Puerto Rico.