A protesters speaks into a megaphone whilst leading a crowd of people.

Ban Conversion Therapy demo becomes Impromptu Street Protest

Police were left scrambling to keep up when trans rights activists took to the streets in a spontaneous protest against harmful conversion practices

A planned demo took place from 11am on College Green yesterday (May 14) hosted by Trans Pride South West and Bristol Pride. The demo was called against the government’s refusal to protect trans people from the practice known as conversion therapy, in which LGBT+ people are subject to methods designed to “convert” them away from their gender or sexual identity. 

When the demo had ended, around 100 protesters without prior warning marched onto Park Street and towards the city centre, leaving police to play an hour-long game of catch-up. 

Speaking to The Bristol Activist at the demo, Daryn Carter, a co-director of Bristol Pride, called conversion therapy an ‘abhorrent and awful practice,’ adding that it must be stopped. 

He said the demo was about the LGBT+ community ‘standing together united’ as they call for a full ban. 

‘We don’t want anyone from our community left behind. Pride is about the whole of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and all the plus that falls under our umbrella,’ said Daryn. 

The College Green demo was a bright and colourful affair. Around 250 people sat on the grass, many holding pride and trans pride flags, and heard speeches from leading LGBT+ figures and later from members of the crowd on an open mic. 

A person holds a placard reading "Conversion Therapy is Torture, Trans rights are human rights"
The demo on College Green was a colourful affair. Image: Robert J Browne.

Kaz Self, of Trans Pride South West, said: ‘I’m the scary trans woman the right-wing media love to hate. But I’m also a badass feminst who cares about women’s rights.’

She went on to say: ‘I’m a woman. A trans woman. A proud trans woman. And I’m not going away. And trans rights are human rights.’

Also speaking was Green Party co-leader Carla Denyer, who said: ‘I take no comfort whatsoever from the government’s partial ban on conversion therapy. Lesbian, gay and bisexual people, we are standing with you, all transgender people. LGB with the T.’

After the demo people moved towards the water that surrounds City Hall where they floated paper boats, made of trans pride flags, on the water. 

People crouch at the edge of water with paper boats in hand.
Paper boats made of trans pride flags are floated outside City Hall.

It was shortly afterwards that a small group produced a megaphone and began to chant whilst moving swiftly towards Park Street.

Swept up in the sudden radical energy, around 100 fellow protesters joined them in taking to the streets, marching from College Green to the Bearpit and back between midday and 1pm, causing major backups on the roads. 

The genteel picnic atmosphere of the College Green demo was replaced with a harder tone as chants of “we’re here, we’re queer, and we have got no fear” as an entire community left to feel ostracised and abandoned by the government poured their frustrations onto the streets of central Bristol. 

A protester holds a large trans pride flag at the head of a group of marchers.
Chants of “we’re here, we’re queer and we have got no fear” echoed throughout central Bristol. Image: James Ward.

Only three police officers were initially present, believing the demo would remain on College Green. The speed with which protesters took to the streets left officers struggling to keep up. Efforts by the police to liaise with protesters about where they were going were met with chants of “no comment, officer”. 

The march returned to College Green after an hour, at which point the protest ended and attendees drifted off to enjoy the sunny afternoon. 

A protester holds a large placard reading "Protect Trans Youth"
Protesters march towards the Bearpit. Image: James Ward.

What is conversion therapy?

Conversion therapy refers to a range of practises that are used on LGBT+ people to convert them away from their acquired gender. Methods include talking therapy, aversion therapy, and in extreme circumstances even exorcisms and “corrective rape”. 

Earlier this year the government promised a total ban on conversion therapy before U-turning in April, much to the condemnation of LGBTQ+ groups. In the Queen’s Speech last week new plans were confirmed that water down the ban to one convering only gay conversion therapy without consent or for under-18s. 

In response to this decision, a petition was launched to call for a full ban which currently stands at 144,000 signatures. 

Sammantha Harris, who started that petition, was present at Saturday’s demo. She that it is a myth that gay conversion therapy differs from trans conversion therapy. 

‘It is the same mechanisms, it is the same people doing it and they’re doing it in the same way,’ said Harris, adding: ‘What the government doesn’t seem to understand is that all conversion therapy is harmful. Just as you can’t consent to domestic abuse or forced marriage, you can’t meaningfully consent to conversion practices.’

In response to Harris’s petition the government this week said: ‘We will bring forward a ban that protects everyone from attempts to change their sexual orientation.

‘There are different considerations when it comes to transgender conversion therapy and the Government remains committed to exploring these.

‘One of the complexities is that those who experience gender dysphoria may seek talking therapy. It is vital that legitimate support is not inadvertently impacted.’

Dr Latifa Patel, chair of the British Medical Association, said she was dismayed by the government’s exclusion of trans people, adding that there is ‘no evidence whatsoever’ that conversion therapy is a credible treatment. 

Dr Patel said that converstion therapy ‘drives societal prejudices about transgender people and further isolates the trans community. While the Government might feel they have secured a moral victory in banning conversion therapy for gay and bisexual people, it means nothing until every member of the LGBTQ+ community is freed from this barbaric practice.’

The British Psychological Society has likewise condemned conversion therapy as ‘unethical and potentially harmful’ and called for a ban to include transgender people. 

Did you go this protest? What did you think? Let us know in the comments or at thebristolactivist@protonmail.com.

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