All Ireland Anti Conversion Therapy Coalition launched

A group of young activists have set up the cross-border Anti Conversion Therapy Coalition to pressure the government, north and south, to legislate against the practice.

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Young activists from across the political spectrum in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland launched an Anti Conversion Therapy Coalition (ACTC) on Tuesday. The aim of the coalition is to outlaw the practice of conversion therapy across the island of Ireland.

“We’re coming together to highlight that this unethical practice needs to end in Ireland” said the chairperson of the ACTC, Aaron Grant prior to the launch. “This isn’t an ideological issue; it’s about doing what’s right”.

Conversion therapy refers to any form of treatment proposed to change a person’s sexual orientation or to suppress a person’s gender identity. These therapies are both unethical, harmful and based on a belief that being gay or transgender is a mental illness, and can ‘be cured’.

The Prohibition of Conversion Therapies Bill was put forward by Sinn Féin Senator Fintan Warfield to ban the practice in the Republic. However, three years on from when it was first introduced, it is still only in the preliminary stages of being approved and there are concerns that the COVID-19 pandemic has led to it being forgotten.

While the ban on gay conversion therapy is on the Department of Children and Equality’s National LGBTI+ Inclusion Strategy 2019-2021, the responsibility to further it falls on the Department of Health.

Currently, Warfield is waiting on the Department of Health’s changes to the bill before it can be progressed. He noted that, “It’s no doubt they are the busiest department in government right now with the pandemic.”

The Anti Conversion Therapy Coalition aim to ensure that the bill makes it over the line.

In Northern Ireland there is also progress being made. Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey has started the process of drafting legislation for a ban on conversion therapy while working alongside an expert panel to put together Stormont’s sexual orientation strategy but she warned that the process should not be rushed.

However, some feel that the work needs to be done quicker. SDLP MLA Colin McGrath expressed concerns that the legislation could be delayed beyond the end of the Assembly mandate next spring. During question time last month he said, “sometimes the executive is good at announcing strategies and legislation but not just so good on delivering them.”

The Northern Ireland Executive is coming under increasing political pressure to act. Alliance Councillor, Patrick Brown, successfully introduced a motion at last Wednesday’s meeting of Newry, Mourne and Down District Council calling for an outright ban on conversion therapy.

For now the practice of conversion therapy remains legal on the island of Ireland but the ACTC hopes to join countries such as Brazil, Ecuador, Malta and Germany in legislating for nationwide bans sooner rather than later.

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