An end in sight for ‘bogus and abhorrent’ conversion therapy

Ella Rhodes reports.

The Coalition Against Conversion Therapy recently celebrated a memorandum of understanding backed by all major psychological, psychotherapeutic and counselling organisations in the UK, including the British Psychological Society. This event, held at the Houses of Parliament, was uncannily timed, coming one day after the government released the shocking results of the largest national survey of LGBT people in the world and announced a move towards eradicating conversion therapy.

Ben Bradshaw MP, who was only the second MP to be openly gay at the time of his first election in 1997, opened the event by welcoming the future ban on conversion therapy. However, he pointed out that this kind of so-called therapy, which aims to change a person’s sexuality, often occurs in the fringes of society and in the fundamental branches of some religions, which would make a ban difficult to enforce. This move by the government, he added, was just the beginning of the journey rather than the end.

Chair of the Coalition Against Conversion Therapy psychotherapist Dr Igi/Lyndsey Moon said the coalition represented 100,000 psychologists, psychotherapists and counsellors across 16 organisations that offer clinical and therapeutic services for LGBT people. Moon made clear that while conversion therapy is harmful, they did not wish to dissuade LGBT people from accessing therapy, and anyone with problems, whether related to sexuality and gender or not, should feel able to speak about their personal feelings and thoughts with a qualified professional.

Conversion therapy, Moon explained, is aimed at ‘curing’ LGBT people and can describe many ‘treatments’ from pseudo-psychological therapy through to so-called ‘corrective rape’. It is often offered by faith organisations and healthcare professionals, and the national LGBT survey of more than 100,000 people found 7 per cent had undergone or been offered conversion therapy, with young people being more likely to have it offered to them than older people.

One particularly sad finding from the survey, Moon said, was that more than two thirds of LGBT people are scared to hold their partner’s hand in public: ‘I want to hold hands with the person I love, I want us all to be able to hold hands with those we love in public and in safety. To live in safety is our freedom and to have our freedom is the greatest form of equality we can ever share.’

Bradshaw took to the stage once more and said he was grateful to now have the listening ear of government ministers, compared to 1997 when he was called a ‘sterile, disease-ridden homosexual who would put my constituents’ children at risk’ by a Conservative opponent. He pointed out there was a new generation of MPs for whom equality is a given and who have been working hard to achieve it.

Minister for Equalities Baroness Susan Williams pointed to more of the shocking findings from the national LGBT survey. LGBT people, she said, are less satisfied with life than the general population; 67 per cent of trans respondents said they were not open about their gender identity; two in five respondents said they had experienced an incident in the previous year because they were LGBT; and more than nine in ten did not report these incidents because ‘it happens all the time’. However, she added, the most striking results relate to conversion therapy, which she described as abhorrent and bogus. She pointed to the statistic that 19 per cent of those who had undergone conversion therapy did so at the hands of healthcare providers or medical professionals. She affirmed the government’s commitment to tackling LGBT issues in its 75-point action plan to improve the lives of people in the community, and £4.5 million in funding to address findings from the survey.

Bradshaw finally introduced Crispin Blunt MP, who came out as gay in 2010 after being married for 20 years. Referring to the LGBT survey Blunt said he had come across starkly different reactions to his holding his partner’s hand in public, being told by one passer-by that it was ‘disgusting’ and later being approached by a cyclist in New York City who simply said ‘fab-u-lous’. ‘This is why I will continue to support the great work being done on this because I know precisely how much it means to finally be myself.’ 

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