Activists take to Cardiff to protest UK government refusal to ban trans conversion therapy

Video report by ITV Wales reporter Hamish Auskerry

Members of Wales’ trans community have taken to the centre of Cardiff to protest the UK government’s refusal to legislate to ban trans conversion therapy.

Gathering outside the home of the UK government in Cardiff, Tŷ William Morgan House, on Tuesday, April 16, protesters called on the government to U-turn on its decision not to include trans conversion therapy in a ban on the practise.

As previously reported by ITV, the ban now set to be brought forward in next month's Queen's Speech will cover “only gay conversion therapy, not trans”.

The decision has angered trans people and their allies across the UK.

Shash Appan was a victim of conversion therapy before she co-founded Trans Aid Cymru

Shash Appan, was subjected to a form of conversion therapy when her family took her to India in an attempt to isolate her after coming out.

Shash, who went on to co-found Trans Aid Cymru, a mutual aid organisation that supports trans and non-binary people, told ITV Wales: “[My family] didn’t allow me to express the gender I wanted, I was forced to present as male.

“We have laws around trafficking when forced marriage is an issue, but this ban could have prevented a situation like mine. I could have gone to staff at the airport, but I couldn’t do anything. To them it wasn’t illegal.”

The UK Government initially announced that ministers were scrapping plans to ban the practise all together.

However, following a furious backlash, it announced legislation would be put forward, albeit excluding trans conversion therapy.

Conversion therapy

What is it and what does it mean?

Conversion therapy, which is also known by other names including "reparative therapy" or "gay cure therapy”, is the practise of trying to change someone's sexual orientation or gender identity.

Professional bodies such as the NHS have warned that it is both “unethical and potentially harmful”. 

When practiced, it involves trying to stop or suppress someone from being gay or from living as a different gender.

‘Therapies’ can include talking therapy and prayer, while more extreme forms include physical violence and practises such as food and sleep deprivation.

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Trans Aid Cymru, alongside other LGBTQ+ organisations across Wales and the UK including Stonewall, are campaigning for the UK government to include trans conversion therapy in the ban.

Shash continued: “This ban could provide so much more protection for the most vulnerable people among us.

“We are a small minority of people who are just trying to get by. We [Trans Aid Cymru] deal with vulnerable people all the time.

“Conversion therapy victims are just demoralised and hurt by the government’s decision to not make the thing that that hurt so many of us illegal.

“Allowing so many trans kids to continually be tortured in the name of trying to stop them being trans is disgraceful. They are letting it happen and it is a kick in the face.”

Also present at the protest in Cardiff was Liam Ware who told ITV Wales: “They [UK government] acknowledged that conversion therapy is bad, it’s something that hurts people, it’s not therapy it’s torture.

“They have acknowledged that it needs to be banned for a certain demographic of people, so why is it okay to be completely allowed for another demographic.

“Most of us found out we were trans when we were children, and most of us just want to live our normal lives with our names, our pronouns and the outfits we wear.

“We are not asking for anything more than to be let to live in peace.”

Zoey Allen hopes more protests such as this one will push the UK government to reconsider its position.

Zoey told ITV Wales: “It’s disgusting and terrifying all at once, especially for young people who are trans.

“It’s hard enough going through those times figuring out who you are, but then having somebody telling you that you can’t be trans must be absolutely appalling.

“If the UK government can see that us trans people aren’t mentally ill, we just need some more support, then the proof is in the numbers, there are lots of people here in Cardiff alone.”

Speaking ahead of the planned demonstration, a spokesperson for the UK Government said: “The government has a proud record on LGBT rights, and the prime minister is committed to bringing forward legislation to ban conversion therapy.  

“Recognising the complexity of issues and need for further careful thought, we will carry out separate work to consider the issue of transgender conversion therapy further. 

“This is a legally complex area and we have a responsibility to ensure unintended consequences are not written into legislation, particularly in the case of under 18s.”

However, those within the trans community say the approach of encouraging gender affirmation is the safest approach to issues such as gender dysphoria.

Shash said: “The consensus by experts in fields like psychiatry is that the current model works, gender affirmation is the safest way for children with gender dysphoria to explore their gender.

“It is safe, it works, and it allows trans kids to have a safe environment and not tell them what they are feeling is wrong or disgusting. At the end of the day, trans kids just want to be themselves, they have no ulterior motives.”

The chief medical officer for Wales, Dr Frank Atherton, has called the practice of conversion therapy "abhorrent", adding that banning it will offer an "important opportunity to support those at risk of conversion therapy as well as victims and survivors”.

Earlier on Tuesday (April 26), the Welsh government outlined the steps it is taking towards banning conversion therapy, signing a Memorandum of Understanding’ with the Coalition Against Conversion Therapy.