The Safe To Be Me conference was cancelled after LGBTQ+ organisations withdrew their support (Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images)
Safe to Be Me, an LGBT+ international conference set to be the first of its kind in the UK, has been cancelled, following the withdrawal of more than 100 organisations in response to the Government’s decision not to include protections for transgender people in its ban on conversion therapy.
The Government first pledged to ban conversion therapy under Theresa May in 2018, however, in March 2021, three advisers quit the Government’s LGBT advisory panel over concerns that action on the ban was happening too slowly.
This is everything you need to know.
What is Safe to Be Me?
Safe to Be Me was going to be the UK’s first ever global LGBT conference, and had been set to take place from 29 June to 1 July, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the first official London Pride marches.
Countries across the world had been invited to attend the conference, and had been described by the Government as “the largest event of its kind” with a focus on “making progress on legislative reform, tackling violence and discrimination, and ensuring equal access to public services for LGBT people”.
The global conference was announced last year, and Liz Truss, Minister for Women and Equalities, said at the time: “I want everyone to be able to live their life free from prejudice, malice, or violence, regardless of their background or who they choose to love.
“People should be judged on the basis of their individual character and talents alone, and we want to ensure that this message is heard around the world.
“This conference will take aim at the prejudices LGBT people still face, and look at the collective action we can take to tackle those injustices alongside our international friends and partners.”
Why has it been cancelled?
The Safe to Be Me conference has since been cancelled following the immense backlash directed at the Government for failing to properly implement a ban on conversion therapy which includes transgender people.
The backlash came after it was reported that ministers had abandoned plans to ban conversion therapy, with a government spokesperson confirming that they were looking at ways of preventing conversion therapy through existing law and “other non-legislative measures”.
The report initially came from ITV News, which had seen a leak of a Downing Street briefing paper which said that “the PM has agreed we should not move forward with legislation” to outlaw the practice.
Hours after the report came out, Johnson was said to have “changed his mind” after seeing the reaction to the earlier announcement, however a senior government source was quoted as saying that the ban would cover “only gay conversion therapy, not trans”.
After it was revealed that transgender people would not be protected by the ban on conversion therapy, more than 80 LGBTQ+ groups and over 20 HIV groups said that they would not be taking part in the Safe to Be Me conference.
Consortium, the umbrella body for LGBT+ voluntary and community organisations, said it was a “sad day” but the blame for what happened lay solely with Downing Street.
The Terrence Higgins Trust issued a joint statement on behalf of 23 HIV organisations, saying they would also not be supporting or attending the Safe To Be Me conference.
“The implications of the international LGBT conference being cancelled is solely at the doorstep of No 10,” it said in a statement.
“LGBT+ organisations were left with no choice but to withdraw any support in order to stand in solidarity and partnership with our trans communities.
“This is a sad day but one where we must begin to change the narrative and look to build a country where every person can feel safe and live a life with dignity and respect.”
Other organisations to withdraw their support for the conference include the Rainbow Project, Stonewall, TUC, the LGBT Foundation, Mermaids and the Scottish Trans Alliance.
Jayne Ozanne, a former government LGBT adviser who survived 20 years of conversion therapy, said vulnerable people were being “thrown under the bus”.
“This is the Prime Minister’s decision and the Prime Minister has shown his true colours with regard to the LGBT community,” she told the PA news agency.
“I think he thought he could get away with it, but this will horrify, I am sure, people right across the country who have believed frankly for years that this should have been banned.”
What is conversion therapy?
Conversion therapy exists under the belief that being in LGBTQ+ community is something that needs to be “cured”, and refers to the practice of trying to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity through the use of medical, psychiatric, psychological, religious, cultural or other interventions.
The International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) states that conversion therapy causes “extreme, and often unimaginable, human suffering” and “research shows that people are subjected to corrective violence and invalid medication (including anti-psychotics, anti-depressants, anti-anxiety and hormone injections)”.
It adds: “Electroconvulsive therapy, aversive treatments using electric shocks or vomit-inducing drugs, exorcism or ritual cleansing (often involving violence while reciting religious verse), force-feeding and food deprivation, forced nudity, and forced isolation and confinement are some of the more extreme examples of conversion therapy.”
The IRCT and the Independent Forensic Expert Group (IFEG) released a statement in 2020 which said that conversion therapy “violates the basic human rights of individuals and the stards and ethics of the medical and mental health professions, with no medical or scientific validity”.
The statement said: “The act of conversion therapy is cruel, inhuman and degrading and, in many cases, torture and should be made illegal in all countries.”
LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall says that “in the UK, all major counselling and psychotherapy bodies, as well as the NHS, have concluded that conversion therapy is dangerous and have condemned it by signing a “Memorandum of Understanding”.
What has the response been like?
The response to the Government’s failure to implement legislation that protects the entirety of the LGBTQ+ community has been huge, with many speaking out about the Government’s decision.
Iain Anderson, the UK’s LGBT+ business champion, resigned earlier on Tuesday (5 March) over the Government’s “profoundly shocking” position on banning conversion therapy for transgender people.
Reacting to the event’s cancellation, Conservative MP Dehenna Davison tweeted: “We had such a huge opportunity to prove the UK (and the Conservative Party) is a defender of freedom.
“As a Conservative member of the LGBT+ community, it is so wrong it has come to this.”
Conservative MP William Wragg called for the Government to “have some empathy”.
He tweeted: “If banning conversion therapy will stop the likes of me being subjected to mental cruelty in repressing my true self, why not so for someone who is trans?
“I can see no logic in excluding trans people from legislation banning conversion therapy. Let’s have some empathy.”
Labour shadow attorney general Emily Thornberry said the cancellation of the conference was a “sickening waste”.
“For three years, I urged the Government to use the opportunity they had as co-chair of the (intergovernmental) Equal Rights Coalition to take a global lead on LGBTQ+ issues,” she posted on Twitter.
“For three years, they did nothing except talk up their ‘Safe To Be Me’ conference. And now where are we? What a sickening waste.”