Hundreds of people gathered in Whitehall yesterday to protest the British government’s refusal to ban ‘conversion therapy’ targeted at trans people.
On Sunday 10 April, hundreds of people gathered outside 10 Downing Street to protest the British government’s refusal to ban transgender ‘conversion therapy’. Participants chanted ‘keep trans in the ban’, ‘LGB with the T’, and ‘trans rights are human rights’ over several hours, partially blocking traffic attempting to pass through Downing Street.
On Thursday 31 March, it had been revealed the British Government was planning on outlawing ‘conversion therapy’ for gay people only, refusing to extend a proposed ban to trans-targeting practices. Theresa May had initially promised to ban all such practices four years ago.
The London demonstration was called by Ban Conversion Therapy, a coalition of NGOs including Stonewall, who have been pushing the government to deliver on the promised legislation. As many speakers, and signs from attendees made clear, it’s a misnomer to describe these practices, from queerphobic talking therapies to intrusive violations of bodily autonomy, as ‘therapy’. Instead many attendees called these practices what they are – torture. A particular torture targeted at LGBTIQ+ youth, promoted by transphobic campaigners and now given tacit approval by the British government. Hiding under cover of neutral medical intervention, conversion tortures are one of the many ways in which the bodies of trans and queer people are policed and controlled in the capitalist system.
This protest follows months of escalation of the British government’s transphobic rhetoric, alongside their longstanding history of queerphobia. Increasing culture war rhetoric around trans people in sports and so-called ‘single-sex spaces’ has been used more and more by the Conservatives lately, while the spineless Labour frontbench tries to have it both ways. Transphobic activists have made a concerted push to get these talking points normalised in the media, and now we are seeing the consequences.
Several speakers spoke to the crowd on the sunny afternoon, flanked by trans flags and homemade placards. Some discussed their own experiences of conversion torture, including how it harmed and traumatises them to this day. Others, such as Peter Tatchell, spoke of the long history of LGBTIQ+ groups intervening for the liberation of their trans comrades. After an initial set of speeches from organising groups, the mic was opened up to the crowd, with individuals contributing for several hours to those attending.
One of the first speakers was Iain Anderson, who resigned this week from his role as the British government’s ‘LGBT+ business champion’ in the aftermath of their decision. He spoke of the need to take this campaign into parliament and convince the government to change their mind. Similarly, many of the larger NGO speakers talked of the ‘good MPs’ who could be brought on-side, or of the need to change minds within parliament.
Following the government’s announcement , 80+ LGBTIQ+ groups who were going to participate in the government’s first global LGBT conference, Safe To Be Me, pulled out, leading to its cancellation. But why were these groups happy to work with a government so clearly opposed to their existence in the first place? As Derek Jarman wrote regarding the ‘respectable’ wing of LGBTIQ+ politics – ‘Why kowtow with the enemy? Why not demand what is right rather than beg? They are the enemy who attempt to put our clock back.’
A more radical LGBTIQ+ sentiment was visible at the protest, from participants spontaneously blocking the road outside Downing Street, to speakers linking the ban on conversion torture to the wider need for trans healthcare – universal, accessible and not subject to the dictatorship of the clinician. Such a sentiment reflects a wider emerging revolutionary trans politics within Britain, as shown by similar protests.
Outside the heart of British transphobia, today hundreds came together – to live, to comfort, to revolt.