'Conversion therapy is a prevalent form of torture in Northern Ireland,' say activists

Last month the minister for equality in the UK said they would “shortly be bringing forward plans” to end conversion therapy and activists have called for assurance that Northern Ireland will be included.

conversion therapy torture

Advocates have detailed the prevalence of ‘conversion therapy’ in Northern Ireland and have called for an urgent ban of the practice “recognised as torture”.

‘Conversion therapy’ refers to medical experiments and psychological techniques designed to modify a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.

Alliance councillor Eóin Tennyson told Belfast Live how he has seen the effects of ‘conversion therapy’ first-hand after a friend underwent “religious counselling” for their sexual orientation.

“Often, these practices go unnoticed by the wider population but they are very much a reality in NI.

“Unfortunately, a friend of mine was subjected to these practices and I saw first hand the impact it had on them and their relationships with others,” Tennyson said.

The councillor has called on Health Minister Robin Swann to ban the practice effective immediately.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health said they are “not in a position to do so” due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a statement, they said: “The DoH does not fund any organisations to carry out reparative or conversion therapy and statutory services within the Health and Social Care system do not prescribe reparative or conversion therapy.

“Given the ongoing demands placed on the Department of Health by the Covid-19 pandemic, it is not in a position to take forward the issue of a legislative ban on reparative or conversion therapy by private operators.”

A new movement called Ban Conversion Therapy published an open letter last week signed by the likes of actor Alan Cumming and Elton John, calling for an end to the practice.

The campaign is co-founded by Matthew Hyndman, who grew up in Northern Ireland but is now living in London.

He explained how conversion therapy is recognised as torture by the International Torture Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims.

The activist said: “The people who I have spoken to about it, they have had [medical] therapy as a result afterwards but they were subjected to some of the most horrific things that you can imagine.”

Conversion therapy remains legal in the UK despite it being over two years since then Prime Minister Theresa May announcing that the goverment pledged to ban the practice.

Last month equalities minister Liz Truss announced she would “shortly be bringing forward plans” to end conversion therapy and would be “closely following” the procedure to ban conversion therapy used in countries such as Albania and Germany.

Hyndman said this ban must be enforced in Northern Ireland in line with the rest of the UK:

“I know there is this awful issue where NI is forgotten about time and time again. In this instance we can’t just sit by and pretend like nothing’s happening.

“It is just plainly clear that it is incredibly damaging.”

Director of HERe NI, Cara McCann, said they fully support a ban: “Being LGBT+ should be celebrated and embraced, not “cured” or condemned.

“Someone’s sexual orientation and gender identity should not be suppressed. Conversion or reparative therapy is unethical and dangerous.”

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