Pro-LGBTQ priests are being pressured by an anti-trans charity to help exclude transgender people from a proposed ban on conversion therapy, according to emails seen by VICE World News.
The email from the gender-critical LGB Alliance was sent during the UK’s consultation period on a conversion therapy ban – the pseudoscientific practice of trying to “convert” someone from being gay, bisexual or transgender.
Religious groups have strong lobbying power over the ban and often oppose it. Many priests, however, are public about their pro-LGBTQ stance, with hundreds signing an open letter in support of the conversion therapy ban.
The email, sent on the 2nd of February with the subject line “Transing away the gay,” asks clergy members to “reconsider [their] support for the government’s current proposals to ban conversion therapy.” The email invites recipients to a Zoom call to discuss the claims further.
Under the new proposals, conversion therapy in the form of talking or praying would be banned for under 18s in UK law. According to the National LGBT Survey 2017, 5 percent of respondents said they had been offered conversion therapy. A Stonewall report from 2018 found that 20 percent of trans people had been pressured to access services “to suppress their gender identity.”
The email argues that “the government should not add gender identity to its proposed ban on conversion therapy,” something that would exclude transgender people from being protected by the proposed legislation.
The email from the charity also references a statement from the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the UK’s human rights watchdog that has been condemned recently for holding meetings with anti-trans organisations including the LGB Alliance.
The LGB Alliance is a registered charity founded in 2019 by Bev Jackson and Kate Harris, in opposition to Stonewall’s support for trans rights. It denies it is a transphobic organisation, writing on its website. “We fully support trans people in their struggle, for dignity, respect and a life lived free from bigotry and fear. We don’t hate trans people and we don’t wish to see them erased.”
The group has received criticism, however, for its lobbying efforts against the rights of trans people, its opaque funding and its links to the Christian right. It received charitable status in April 2021 but that is now being legally challenged by LGBTQ organisations.
The email from the LGB Alliance argues that “affirming a child with gender dysphoria as trans, and prescribing drugs and later surgery, when many of those concerned would otherwise simply grow up to be lesbian, gay or bisexual, is itself a cruel form of conversion therapy – it is ‘transing away the gay.’”
Many young people in the UK who question their gender identity wait months if not years for an initial appointment with an NHS gender clinic, and face huge barriers to accessing therapy and treatment.
Father Luke Larner, who was contacted by the LGB Alliance, told VICE World News the unsolicited email was “manipulative,” and “caused alarm.”
“I've got major, major reservations about the LGB Alliance, not just based on
their ideology, but on who's funding them,” he said. “[The email] was clearly trying to guilt-trip me, as a member of the clergy… This is coming from a charity that has charitable status and it’s entirely unprofessional the way it has been worded.”
“This [email] just raised red flags for me,” he said, also referencing how he had no idea how the LGB alliance found his contact details. “It caused alarm.”
It is not clear how the contact addresses were found, but the email states that recipients had received their email due to their association with the Ozanne Foundation, a pro-LGBTQ religious organisation.
The Ozanne Foundation told VICE World News: “We are aware that an anti-trans organisation has approached many of those who chose to publicly sign the 2020 Global Interfaith Commission on LGBT+ Lives' Declaration, a global initiative of the Ozanne Foundation, that called for an international ban on ‘conversion therapy’. They appear to have researched people's email addresses and have implied that this international call was support for the UK government's current proposals. We have advised people that the best way to respond is to point to what the Minister of Equalities, Mike Freer MPs, has said about them and their claims.”
The government’s consultation on a conversion therapy ban came to an end last week. As it stands, the proposed bill will include trans people.
The LGB Alliance declined to comment.
Sasha Misra, associate director of communications and campaigns at Stonewall said: ‘The vast majority of countries that have either banned or introduced plans to ban so-called conversion therapy in recent years have covered both sexual orientation and gender identity.
This is because international research, including that of the UN Independent Expert, has found conversion therapy on the basis of sexuality or gender to be similar and linked in motivation and practice. Attempts to exclude trans people from such protections would render a ban ineffective in preventing abuse for all our communities.”
This article has been updated to include a comment from the Ozanne Foundation.