Pray the gay away: cull conversion therapy worldwide

2 July 2019

We are marking each day in the week leading up to London Pride with a blog highlighting LGBTQ+ issues from home and abroad.
 

Germany recently declared it will make it illegal for people to practise conversion therapy, should the UK do the same? 

Whilst Pride is a time to celebrate, not everyone feels able to do so. There are people across the world, including in the UK, going through conversion therapy also known as reparative treatment. The aim is to ‘cure’ someone of homosexuality and ‘make them straight’ as being gay is seen as an ‘illness’. People are told to ‘pray the gay away’. This is shocking, but sadly still happening. Positively some countries, most recently Germany, will ban this treatment, but it is clear that further work needs to take place.

What is conversion therapy?

Unfortunately there is still stigma attached to being gay in some communities. This can lead to individuals feeling ashamed and guilty about their sexuality and unable to live openly. Some people voluntarily engage in conversion therapy whilst others are pressured into it by family members or religious advisors. Disturbingly, minors also partake in this presumably because their parents have consented on their behalf. A study by The Williams Institute[1] reported that 16,000 minors aged between 11 and 17 will receive conversion therapy from a health care professional in the US.

Conversion therapy can happen against various backdrops, such as within a religious/spiritual setting or as an offering by a qualified therapist. The therapies can range from talk therapy, aversion techniques, hypnotherapy, exorcisms and electric shock to ‘corrective rape’ in some countries. There is also a tendency to blame homosexuality on the individual being surrounded too much by the opposite sex causing them to adopt more masculine or feminine traits. They can take place once a week or even in a conversion camp for a few weeks to months to years.

There is no scientific evidence that conversion therapy can change someone’s sexuality – this is not an illness. These treatments are harmful and unethical and can cause individuals to self-hate resulting in depression, self-harm and anxiety. Some may have suicidal thoughts.

So what’s being done?

It is not illegal for a therapist to offer and undertake conversion therapy in the UK. Stonewall commissioned YouGov Plc. to carry out a survey looking at LGBT issues in health and social care settings; it was reported that 10% of health and care staff have witnessed colleagues “express the belief that someone can be ‘cured’ of being lesbian, gay or bisexual”.[2]

In 2018, the UK government pledged to end conversion therapy. The Church of England has supported a ban and condemned the practice. Major health bodies, such as NHS England, the British Psychoanalytic Council and the British Psychological Society have signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Conversion Therapy in the UK[3] confirming their commitment to end the practice of conversion therapy via internal processes and education. This is an important step and will address those professionals who believe they can ‘cure’ homosexuality.

It is positive to see that some countries, most recently Germany, will ban this treatment, but it is clear that further work needs to take place. 18 states in the US[4] have also banned conversion therapy.

Whilst the UK is addressing professionals who offer conversion therapy, there is still an issue of some religious and cultural advisors performing this. Tackling this at a grassroots level will take more time, but it is hoped that this will change with greater awareness of LGBTQ rights and an understanding of the real harm that conversion therapy can have on individuals.

About the author

Sameena Munir is an Associate in Kingsley Napley’s Private Client team.  She is an active member of the firm’s Diversity and Inclusion and LGBT & Allies networks.

 

[1] The Williams Institute is part of UCLA School of Law. They have an updated report Conversion Therapy and LGBT Youth published in June 2019 authored by Christy Mallory, Taylor N.T. Brown and Kerith J. Conron.

[2] Unhealthy Attitudes – the treatment of LGBT people within health and social care services (2015).

[4] California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Washington D.C., Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington

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