opinion

'Gay "cure" therapy is abuse - it's time the British government outlawed it for good'

Condemnation is not enough when lives are at stake, writes Attitude Editor-in-Chief Cliff Joannou

2018-05-08

This article firt appeared in Attitude issue 294, April 2018

We've come a long way with equal rights legislation in the UK since the early 20th century.

This year, the UK marks 100 years since (some) women fi rst won the right to vote. Last year, we marked 50 years since partial discrimination of homosexuality.

Meanwhile, the European Convention of Human Rights outlaws slavery, gives us the right to freedom of expression and prohibits torture and “inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”.

Laws protect our rights as adults, but one cruel practice that is tantamount to psychological torture remains legal. In the UK in 2018, parents can submit LGBT+ children to conversion therapy without legal recourse.

Stonewall describes conversion therapy as “any form of treatment or psychotherapy which aims to reduce or stop same-sex attraction or to suppress a person’s gender identity”. It’s based on the assumption that a person’s sexuality can be “cured”.

The Home Office states that the government has “taken steps to prevent the practice of gay conversion therapy in the UK,” and there are no plans to introduce criminal offences for a practice that is derided by all major counselling and psychotherapy bodies.

As it stands, the government is happy to continue the PR exercise that comes with condemning conversion therapy, but effectively won’t put its money where its mouth is and outlaw it.

Last month, I met a trans man who’d run away from home because he feared his family was going to send him to a religious school in Pakistan. I also know a young teenager who left his home when he found out his father was making plans to have him sent to his village in Nigeria to 'exorcise' his homosexuality. Another teenager I know was sent to a Christian therapist to learn to manage his 'sinful feelings'. 

There simply are no grounds for the UK government to refuse to outlaw conversion therapy. While it may not be as prevalent here as it is in the USA or Africa, the ambiguous nature in which it exists in the eyes of the law allows the practice to fester in a sinister, grey area in which it is condemned but not criminalised.

Government inaction effectively turns a blind eye to the plight of the mostly young LGBT+ people who, already vulnerable in families that devalue their identity, have to endure these torturous 'therapeutic' sessions. The experience takes an appalling toll on a person’s mental health.

The issue extends beyond families. Stonewall’s Unhealthy Attitudes research found one in every 10 health and social care staff have witnessed colleagues expressing the belief that sexuality can be cured — the number rises to one in every five in London.

A 2009 survey of more than 1,300 accredited mental-health professionals found more than 200 had offered some form of conversion therapy, with 35 per cent of patients referred to them for treatment by GPs and 40 per cent treated inside an NHS practice.

Making the practice illegal would be a move that defi antly states that a person’s sexuality or gender identity is valid — not something which needs 'curing'.

Even the Church of England has called for this perverse practice to be banned. So, Prime Minister: why isn’t conversion therapy illegal yet?

Follow Cliff on Twitter @CliffJoannou