Why Has the Government's LGBT+ Advisory Panel Disbanded and What Happens Next?
Initially set up under former Prime Minister Theresa May, the LGBT+ Advisory Panel was constructed in 2018 to oversee and tackle LGBT+-related issues. It was comprised of a group of civil society representatives dedicated to addressing LGBT+ concerns, hoping to highlight some of the community's problems, including public discrimination, prejudices, and negative stigmas. The advisory panel was set up in good faith and was, in theory, meant to give the LGBT+ community a voice within greater society by combatting issues at the government level.
The panel members were appointed and headed by the Women and Equalities Minister and consisted of experts in LGBT+ studies and human rights, including professors, charity executives, and many more. The group was assigned to use their expertise in the field and deliver recommendations to the Government on legislative and social change that would positively impact the LGBT+ community.
Why was the LGBT+ advisory panel started?
The advisory panel was set up by Theresa May as part of the initial LGBT Action Plan. The plan was to diminishing harmful stereotypes regarding the LGBT+ community, tackle deep-seated prejudices within the community, offer support to local pride events, and increase inclusion in sports and physical activities.
In practice, the panel wanted to take action against harmful legislation that discriminates against the LGBT+ community or compromises their fundamental rights. The panel planned to do this by providing funding, training and resources on an international level to enhance the community's rights globally.
Although the Government had long-term plans for the panel, those plans fell short when the panel disbanded in April 2021, only three years after it initially formed. The committee's dissolution is attributed to the abrupt resignation of three minister members from the panel's working group due to disagreements on the criminalisation of conversion therapy.
What is conversion therapy?
Conversion therapy is a highly controversial practice that aims to reduce, suppress, and alter someone's gender identity and sexual orientation. Conversion therapy is considered a pseudoscience practice with minimal evidence to back up its practices. Despite these facts, the practice is not illegal in the UK.
Conversion therapy is still popular among conservative and evangelical church communities that believe LGBT+ practices go against their fundamental religious beliefs. Those who identify as such can often be subject to harsh treatments, sent away for isolated therapies, or are forced to undergo unsafe exercises to be accepted back into their families or church communities.
The practices can range from emotionally and mentally harmful to physically dangerous, including deliberate lack of sleep, prolonged prayer, exorcisms, and even electric shocks – in some severe cases.
Conversion therapy has been known to leave many young people traumatised and grappling with their mental health, sexual orientation, and identity. In the UK alone, approximately 2% of LGBT+ individuals can attest to receiving some form of conversion therapy and struggling with their mental health after.
Who opposes the ban?
Conversion therapy practices are still regularly used in some conservative communities, which oppose the blanket ban of the practice. Groups like the Evangelical Alliance argue that a ban on conversion therapy would "place church leaders at risk for prosecution when they preach on biblical texts relating to marriage and sexuality." The alliance represents approximately 3,500 churches across the UK and fears the blanket ban on conversion therapy could target their religious practices.
The Evangelical Alliance also argues that the broad ban on conversion therapy would negatively affect church ministers and pastors, who deliver counselling services that claim to help others understand their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Although the UK government had made pledges in the past to ban conversion therapy, they have recently been criticised for failing to do so. The UK government has yet to formalise legislation that bans conversion therapy, leading some advisory panel members to resign over claims that the Government was "dragging their feet" when outlawing the practice and failed to take the advice put forth by the committee.
Who was part of the advisory panel, and who resigned?
The former Minister for Women and Equalities, Penny Mordaunt, initially appointed the panel's members in 2018 when it was created as part of the LGBT+ 2018 Action Plan. In 2019, a new Minister for Women and Equalities, Elizabeth Truss, took over responsibilities and participated in the panel until it disbanded in 2021.
Panel members included the following 12 representatives:
Dr Stevie-Jade Hardy
Dr Lewis Turner
Professor Catherine Meads
Paul Roberts OBE
Paul Martin OBE
Of those panel members, Jayne Ozanne was the first to confirm her resignation. She noted that although she's a devout Christian, she believes conversion therapy does more harm than good and is frustrated by the Government's stance on the issue. She accused the government of creating a “hostile environment” for LGBT+ people and claimed that ministers were deliberately ignoring issues that regularly affected the community.
Her resignation was quickly followed by two others, Ellen Murray and James Morton, before the Minister for Women and Equalities wrote to the remaining members about disbanding the panel completely.
Who is affected by the panel's dissolution?
As the outgoing panel members noted, the most affected group by the panel's disbandment is the LGBT+ community as a whole and marginalised individuals who suffer from regular discrimination or prejudices the board was built to target.
Many of the tasks the group had set forth were left incomplete and unfulfilled. One of the panel members, Nancy Kelly, the chief executive of LGBTQ+ rights charity Stonewall, expressed disappointment in the disbandment of the panel. She worries that with the dissolution of the panel, the LGBT+ community will be left without representation and lack the advocacy they need for changes to happen at a government level.
The lack of action against conversion therapy practices means several individuals will succumb to these exercises in the meantime. As Jayne Ozanne recalls from her personal experiences with conversion therapy, "the problem is always left with the victim. It is the most hellish, negative cycle to be in, which led [her] to a place of great despair." She also goes on to state that:
"When a religious practice, whether an act of prayer or exorcism or deliverance, is done with the express intention of trying to make you something that you are not, or trying to you to be anything other than LGBTQ+, that is harmful to your mental health – it can be physically damaging to you too, it can be sexually damaging to you – [and] we have to be clear that when religious practice is causing harm, it must be banned."
Until the next steps of how to challenge these issues are addressed by the Government, the LGBT+ community will remain the direct victims of harmful conversion therapy treatments and any discrimination or prejudices the panel had yet to tackle successfully.
What happens next?
In the Women and Equalities Minister's final address to the remaining panel members, she acknowledged the need to continue their work and regroup in the future with new goals. Little information has been given since about how this will happen, what the current Prime Minister - Boris Johnson - plans to do, or what objectives would be outlined in his future committee’s plans. Charities, like The Kaleidoscope Trust, said they were eager to hear what plans the Government has in place to continue the unfinished work of the former panel.
While it's uncertain what will happen next, the disagreements on the highly debatable topic of conversion therapy have been brought to the forefront, leading many ministers and advocates alike to question the Government's pace at banning the practices.
Ultimately, until the Government has taken action on safeguards for LGBT+ individuals, protecting them from harmful practices like conversion therapy, the community will fall victim to ongoing discrimination.
For more resources on this topic, head to our dedicated LGBTQ+ Rights & Issues section.