On Tuesday 23rd November 2021 the “International Federation for Therapeutic and Counselling Choice”, a fundamentalist Christian organisation that believes they should be permitted an exemption from the government’s proposed ban on conversion therapy so that they may continue harmful queerphobic practices, held an all-day conference at the Institution of Civil Engineers.
They invited MPs and journalists directly, and attempted to keep the conference under wraps so that they would not face “disruptors”. They certainly were not expecting us to be protesting on their doorstep. The venue was announced to attendees at 6AM, and by 8AM we were there with leaflets and research.
People responded to our call for a last minute protest and joined Trans Activism UK in standing out in the cold for the entirety of the conference, including support from the likes of Jason Potts of The T&Coffee Trans Network, model and activist Rain Dove, and even the owner of a small Pride merch business who provided us with flags and Quality Street.
Members of the IFTCC organisation team, as well as speakers, came out to speak with us and were not prepared to be met with well informed activists who already knew their programme and the details of their speakers back to front. They offered us copies of the day’s programme, we told them we’d already read the studies being discussed days prior.
We watched as they huffed angrily, or stared at their shoes in shame, unable to counter arguments or answer questions as to why their suggested methods of “therapy” are better than allowing people unbiased support from their community and trained professionals. When faced with first hand accounts of the harm religious conversion therapy causes, and the ways consent cannot always be gauged or provided safely within religious contexts, their only response was to state that their conversion therapy would never be like that, or cause that kind of harm. They had no response for how they would prevent that kind of harm from happening, just an insistence that our protestors’ experiences didn’t matter enough to take into account.
What they also didn’t count on was that another event was being held the same day, by the Institution of Civil Engineers itself, whose members were shocked and disgusted to find out that their venue was hosting such a dangerous conference.
It turns out that the IFTCC did not notify the venue of the nature of their conference, had they done so the ICE would not have permitted them to use their building but it was too late for them to be able to cancel the booking.
Throughout the day engineers and members of the ICE spoke with us about the matter, outraged by the knowledge that these were the people they were sharing a space with, and let us know that they would be submitting formal complaints to the One Great George Street venue.
Our sympathy goes to members of venue staff who came out to thank us for protesting and apologised for the harm caused by the event that their venue was hosting, as they were unaware of the conference and obligated to cater to bigots.
That said, it is clear that the venue was unprepared. We would suggest that, in future, they ensure that they put conditions of hire in place that allow them to shut down events like this conference that hide the nature of what they plan to preach, as a matter of major priority.
Throughout the day we handed out leaflets on the dangers of conversion therapy, providing information on the Coventry University research that proved that conversion therapy holds no evidence of being effective but heaps of evidence on being incredibly dangerous (which the IFTCC is determined to “debunk”).
We also discussed with attendees the fact that many of the “studies” being discussed in the conference are not peer reviewed, feature small sample sizes, and are published in pay to publish journals, which lend unearned legitimacy, and do not follow academic standards for verifying the strength of the research being submitted. Not all research journals are created equal, and just because someone says their research was published in a fancy sounding journal does not back up the strength of its findings.
From speaking to members of the public for hours, who came from a range of backgrounds around the world with a mix of religions, the overwhelming impression was that the people of the UK are shocked that conversion practices such as this are still permitted and that anyone would want to allow them. Many people were aware that the government had done “something” about conversion therapy recently, but most were unaware there was a consultation underway, simply believing it had been banned in this country.
It is for this reason that it’s vital we educate those around us and push to ensure that the government does the right thing.
Take 30 minutes to fill out the government’s consultation on the conversion therapy ban and assist those around you to do the same.
Stonewall have published fantastic guidance and a link to the consultation here:
And they are also holding a webinar on 2nd December at 6PM, where you can learn more information and get help on filling out the consultation: