This former Irish missionary is now fighting to ban conversion therapy

A gay man who was working as a missionary for a Northern Irish church is now leading a campaign to end conversion therapy.

Irish conversion therapy
Image: Matthew Hyndman

Six years ago, Matthew Hyndman was working as a missionary for a Northern Irish church, now Hyndman leads a campaign to ban the practice of conversion therapy.

Hyndman’s life changed in an instant when he sent an email to over 100 members of his congregation which included an attachment of a conversation he had about his homosexuality.

In an opinion piece written for The Independent, Hyndman writes:

“It has its funny side, looking back now, but at the time it felt as if everything that I knew had imploded, and everything that I feared so dreadfully was happening. I had nobody to turn to.

“The first reaction of the mission leaders was not to comfort or support me, but to immediately demand that I undergo therapy and publicly, in front of my 400 fellow missionaries, confess and repent.

“I am glad that I had the strength of mind to refuse, and recognise that I didn’t need to change or ‘cure’ myself. Somehow I got myself to London, where I found people who would help me build a new life and a new community. Now nothing remains from my old life except, after two years of silence, my family.

“For many, refusing conversion therapy means losing your family, faith, community, career, friends – your entire life.

“While people might think that conversion therapy is consensual, or something that people willingly seek, this must be questioned when someone’s whole life is at stake. It can seem impossible to even imagine another life. You do not have free will with a loaded gun to your head.”

Hyndman is the co-founder of a movement called Ban Conversion Therapy which was established last year. Ban Conversion Therapy published an open letter signed by the likes of actor Alan Cumming and Elton John, calling for an end to the practice.

Hyndman, who grew up in Northern Ireland but is now living in London explained how conversion therapy is recognised as torture by the International Torture Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims:

“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.”

In Northern Ireland, LGBTQ+ advocates have long campaigned against the operation of Core Issues Trust, the most prominent ‘conversion therapy’ group in Ireland and the UK.

A close up of Michael Davidson, head of a gay conversion therapy group
Head of Core Issues Trust, Michael Davidson

While the group has faced some obstacles with Northern Trust shutting down their bank account, they are still recognised as a charity and their Instagram account is still live.

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.”

In September 2020, ministers in Northern Ireland discussed moving forward with a legislative ban on ‘conversion therapy’.

‘Conversion therapy’ refers to a range of practices aimed at changing a person’s sexuality or gender identity, which has been reported to cause long term harmCo-founder of Ban Conversion Therapy Matthew Hyndman 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.”

From an Irish context, there are currently no legislative bans on the practice or advertisement of ‘conversion therapy’ in Ireland despite a proposed bill passing into the second stage of the Seanad in 2018.

© 2021 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

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