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Gay men share traumatic experiences of undergoing ‘conversion’ therapy

The UK Government's consultation on a 'conversion' therapy ban ends on Friday 4 February.

By Alastair James

Words: Alastair James; pictures: Unsplash

Gay men have been sharing their experiences of ‘conversion’ therapy ahead of the deadline to the UK Government’s consultation on banning the abhorrent and cruel practice.

‘Conversion’ therapy seeks to change and alter someone’s sexuality or gender identity but has been widely debunked by medical experts and practitioners. 

The consultation on the ban ends today (Friday 4 February)

“A part of myself had been pushed away”

Speaking to the BBC, Matthew Drapper, 33, says he was pressured into the practice by the St Thomas Philadelphia church in Sheffield eight years ago.

“They told me to speak to the gay part of myself as if speaking to a wild dog coming up to me – and for me to say to ‘leave my body’,” he says. He goes on to say people told him when he did they could see demons leaving his body, which he says left him feeling “totally empty” and “like a part of myself had been pushed away, but was still very much there.”

He adds that once he realised he could be a Christian and gay he was stripped of his leadership roles within the church and told to leave. 

The Diocese of Sheffield has confirmed to the BBC that it is investigating Matthew’s case and that it thinks “conversion therapy is unethical, potentially harmful and has no place in the modern world”.

The St Thomas Philadelphia church says “St Thomas Philadelphia is a caring and generous church community which does not engage in conversion therapy. We welcome the independent investigation initiated by the diocese into these allegations of eight years ago and will participate in it.”

The BBC has also spoken to Chris Butler, 55, who’s gay and says his recovery has taken 12 years. His abuse, he tells the broadcaster, started when he was 19 after telling church leaders in Warrington he was gay. 

“I was once held down on the vestry floor by three men and with a large lectern bible thrust down on my head which pressed me down into the floor,” he recounts calling what happened “exorcism”. 

“Ultimately, it is abuse upon all levels,” he adds.

“The desires of perpetrators have been prioritised over the needs of survivors”

A ban on the debunked practice was first promised in 2018 but was only mentioned in the Queen’s Speech earlier this year.

The government has previously said it hopes for legislation to be put forward in spring 2022. While the consultation indicates that ‘conversion’ therapy would be banned for vulnerable people and those under-18 there are fears from campaigners that consenting adults won’t be protected.

Jayne Ozanne, a former member of the government’s now-disbanded LGBT advisory panel and survivor of ‘conversion’ therapy, has previously told Attitude: “There is clear evidence of the harm and trauma that conversion practices cause – which include suicidal thoughts and attempted suicide.”

She added: “Extremely concerned that the government is allowing ‘informed consent’ for adults – it’s a major loophole and will leave thousands at risk. Sadly, the desires of perpetrators have been prioritised over the needs of survivors in relation to religious practices.”

While progress here in the UK has been slow countries such as France and Canada, which have both recently passed similar bans, have been used as good examples by campaigners of what a ban should look like. 

In France, someone can be jailed for up to two years and fined up to 30,000 euros (£25,000) if they are found to be practicing ‘conversion’ therapy. Perpetrators will face tougher sentences if under-18s or vulnerable adults are involved.

You can contribute to the UK consultation here until 11:45 pm on Friday 4 February.

The Attitude February issue is out now. Get your copy here