LGBTQ+ activists have voiced concerns following the announcement that the process to ban so-called conversion therapy in the UK will include a public consultation, a move which some warn could lead to religious exemptions.
The details were announced yesterday, May 11, at the State Opening of Parliament with the Government Equalities Office saying a public consultation will “ensure that the ban can address the practice while protecting the medical profession; defending freedom of speech; and upholding religious freedom”.
While LGBTQ+ activists have reacted to the news with relief, many have spoken also of the potential loopholes that may be created.
Nancy Kelley, CEO of Stonewall said plans for public consultation were “concerning” and that the process “will be hard for our communities to hear”.
Kelley said: “We don’t need a consultation to know that all practices that seek to convert, suppress, cure or change us are dangerous, abusive and must be banned.
“Lesbian, gay, bi, trans, intersex and ace communities have been waiting almost three years for the UK government to follow through on their promise to ban all conversion practices, and any delay leaves us at further risk of abuse.”
Kelley called on the government to “publish a comprehensive bill now” with a clear timeline for the implementation of the conversion therapy ban.
Strong concerns being voiced in U.K. that proposed ‘ban’ will contain wide exemptions and allow this torture to continue in practice.
As we move to #BanConversionTherapy in Ireland, must include all contexts, religious or otherwise.
— NXF (@nxfie) May 11, 2021
Elsewhere organisations such as the Peter Tatchell Foundation and Mermaids have welcomed progress but warned against further delays to banning conversion therapy, which was promised by the UK Government three years ago.
Referring to the message from the UN Rapporteur for Religious Freedom who made it clear that the ban must not be a qualified one, Adam Long from the NXF said that “we note the strong concerns being expressed in the U.K. about watered down ‘ban’ and how, as we move to outlaw the abhorrent practice here in Ireland, we must ensure there are no-opts or exceptions.”
A gay man from Lurgan in Northern Ireland, Gary, spoke of the trauma he experienced as a result of conversion therapy on RTÉ Radio 1’s Today with Claire Byrne yesterday, May 11.
When asked if it was traumatising, Gary replied: “Very much so. I think like a lot of traumas, I try my best not to relive it but try my best to talk about it.”
He continued: “The things that we were made to share, the stories that were personal to us, the stories about your sexuality, being told that that’s wrong, having it affirmed that it’s wrong is really just so, so damaging.”
The effects this had on Gary’s mental health were far-reaching as efforts to change his sexuality inevitably failed. He started drinking alcohol “every night just to get to sleep” and “to get rid of the thoughts”.
While thankfully Gary has since sought legitimate counselling to help overcome his depression and is now comfortable with his sexuality, he recounted his experience of the practice which still happens today across Ireland and the UK.
He added: “It is happening today still. There is going to be someone that gets prayed with today. That prayer whose words will say that your homosexuality is wrong, that will refer to it as a demon, they’ll try to cast it out.”
Young activists from across the political spectrum in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland launched an Anti Conversion Therapy Coalition (ACTC) in April this year. The aim of the coalition is to outlaw the practice of conversion therapy across the island of Ireland.
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.
The Anti Conversion Therapy Coalition aim to ensure that the bill makes it over the line.
In Northern Ireland, the passing of the motion to ban conversion therapy by Stormont has been welcomed by Ban Conversion Therapy NI and the Anti-Conversion Therapy Coalition.
The abuse of LGBTQIA+ people on these islands must stop. Anything short of a complete and total ban is not acceptable.
— Ban Conversion Therapy NI (@BanConversionNI) May 11, 2021
The Minister for Communities, Deirdre Hargey confirmed that her department has begun to research and draft policy around the ban. “I want to make sure we do not leave any loopholes in any legislation, and I want make sure we engage with the community including anyone who has been affected by the practice.”
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. You can sign their petition here.
If you need support or advice or just to talk, there are numerous services available for LGBTQ+ people, listed below, and many offer instant messaging support.
Dublin Rape Crisis Centre
Mental Health Ireland
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