Exclusive: ​Government creating 'hostile environment' for LGBT+ people says adviser as she quits over conversion therapy

  • Video report by ITV News UK Editor Paul Brand

The UK government has created a "hostile environment" for LGBT+ people, according to its own equalities adviser.

Jayne Ozanne, who is a key member of the government's LGBT+ Advisory Panel, on Wednesday resigned from her role in protest - accusing ministers of being "ignorant" about the issues affecting the community.

After ITV News broke this story on Wednesday afternoon, a second adviser, James Morton, also resigned from the panel. He cited the government's response to the story, which he believed to be insufficient. I have been told that other panel members are also considering their positions.

And on Thursday, it emerged a third member of the panel - Ellen Murray - had also quit.

Speaking exclusively to ITV News, Jayne Ozanne told me: "I’ve been increasingly concerned about what is seen to be a hostile environment for LGBT people among this administration.

"Over the years which the advisory panel has met, we’ve seen an increasing lack of engagement and the actions of ministers have frankly been against our advice."

The catalyst for her resignation was a debate in Parliament on Monday, sparked by a petition signed by over 250,000, which called for a ban on so-called "conversion therapy".

  • 'The only thing I think I can realistically do, on principle, is to resign'

​In an interview with ITV News in 2018, the then Prime Minister Theresa May promised she would stamp out the practice, which attempts to change or suppress someone's sexuality or gender identity.

Despite Boris Johnson telling us two years later that he also wanted a ban, the government has yet to bring one forward.

Campaigners fear that any action will fall short of complete prohibition, with the Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch telling MPs during Monday's debate that she wanted to "end" conversion therapy, but repeatedly avoided using the word "ban". 

  • 'I don't believe that they understand LGBT people'

Hitting out at Ms Badenoch, and her boss and cabinet member, Liz Truss, Jayne Ozanne told us: "They are known among the community as the 'ministers for inequality'.

"I don’t believe that they understand LGBT people, particularly transgender people.

"I’ve sat in meetings and I’ve been astonished about how ignorant they are on issues that affect the real lives, particularly of younger people."

As our previous investigations at ITV News have shown, conversion therapy involves a range of practices.

Watch: ITV News uncovers UK church that claims 'God can fix gay people'

In extreme cases it can involve rape and exorcism, but it often takes more subtle forms, including prayer and spiritual guidance.

Some christians and Conservative MPs have lobbied the government to make allowances for religious freedoms, but campaigners say only a complete ban will ensure the safety of vulnerable people who often consent to conversion therapy without realising the damage it does.

Jayne Ozanne told us: "Frankly one of the reasons I’m resigning now is to appeal to the Prime Minister, who I believe is a friend of the LGBT community, to act, to understand that the proposals that are going forward on conversion therapy do not have the confidence of the LGBT community, do not have the confidence of many senior religious leaders who’ve also called for a ban."

Becky Caulfield is among those who say a ban would have saved her from years of anguish.

  • 'There's a narrative that you're an addict': What happens during conversion therapy?

As a young Christian, she sought conversion therapy and quickly ended up in a process which left her feeling suicidal. She only recently began to accept her sexuality and is now in a happy relationship with her girlfriend.

She told me, the law "needs to be robust" as current measures allow for "damage to be done under the radar".

"It's the vulnerable people, it's the people who must need the help who are finding themselves in a position where they're getting the wrong kind of help."

"It's very damaging - it's happening more than you would believe and although it's the last taboo in church circles, it is happening and it's under the radar and it's not right."

  • 'I hit a point where I didn't want to carry on anymore - I didn't think I could carry on'

ITV News understands that the government intends to bring forward its proposals on conversion therapy within weeks - which are currently sitting on the Prime Minister's desk.

But on Monday, Kemi Badenoch wouldn't be drawn on the specifics of any plans, simply telling MPs: "I assure honourable members that we are committed to ending conversion therapy in the UK and we take the issue very seriously.

"The Prime Minister reiterated recently that we want to end conversion therapy and underlined that the practice has no place in a civilised society.""We need to explore all measures to combat these abhorrent practices and ensure measures to combat these abhorrent practices and ensure survivors have access to the help and care they need."

  • 'There are many of us who fear we're going back to the days of Thatcher and Section 28'

But instead of progress, Jayne Ozanne, who has also resigned her membership of the Conservative Party, told me she fears the government is actually going backwards on LGBT+ equality.

"There are many who fear that we are going back to the days of Thatcher, the days of Section 28

"The language that I hear from them is of us being woke, or of being loud lobby groups, and what they don’t seem to understand is the reason we have to shout is because we are hurting, because there are people who are vulnerable who are going unheard and unnoticed. 

"I do not believe this Tory government, sadly, have the best wishes of the LGBT community at heart.

"Instead we seem to have a Trump-esque mode of operation where they’re listening to the right wing evangelicals and those frankly who want to take us back."

In a statement responding to our story, a government spokesperson said: "The government is committed to building a country in which everyone, no matter their sexuality, race or religion, is free to live their lives as they choose."We have repeatedly made clear that we will take action to end conversion therapy and we are working to bring forward plans to do so shortly."

On Wednesday evening, Conservative MP Caroline Noakes commented on our exclusive story.

She said: "I want to see the government legislate and legislate quickly to have an outright ban on conversion therapy.

"We have to recognise that we want to welcome and accept people, whatever their gender and whatever their sexuality, and it seems to be incredibly difficult for the government to move as quickly as the country is."

Shadow Equalities Secretary Marsha de Cordova responded to our report, accusing the government of having "prevaricated over banning conversion therapy for far too long, despite their clear promise to do exactly that".

In a statement, the Labour MP added: "This is a pattern of behaviour which seeks to dismiss the real impact of the discrimination experienced by so many and takes us back to the days of Thatcher.

"The government must get on with setting out a clear plan now which will see an end to this inhumane practice that has no place in modern Britain."