Sun 28 February 2021

Two years after the Government pledged to end the controversial practise, Molly Greeves hears from survivors about their experiences

Five years ago, BBC’s Newsnight published a YouTube video called ‘Is it the End for Gay Conversion Therapy?’

The segment covered Barack Obama’s condemnation of the practise, failing to mention its legality in the UK. The report seemed to suggest that it was an issue belonging to other countries, which would go away soon enough.

Unfortunately, it has not gone away. There is still no legislation banning conversion therapy in the UK.

In July, Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged to end it – describing the practise as “absolutely abhorrent” with “no place in this country”– following a Government study on the issue. However, a ban was promised two years ago by a previous Conservative Government. Why has it taken so long to act against something it says it opposes?

‘Conversion therapy’ attempts to change an individual’s sexuality or gender identity, to make them heterosexual or cisgender. It is used as an umbrella term for all psychological, physical or spiritual practises with this aim.

Among LGBTQ+ people, the NHS and the United Nations, it is understood that conversion therapy is damaging and that changing sexuality is impossible. However, many people are unaware about its continued presence in the UK.

Experiencing Conversion Therapy

A lesbian woman, who spoke to Byline Times, claims that she experienced conversion therapy on two separate occasions in her 20s.

She called it “the most damaging, painful and devastating experience”.

“They told me that there is a spirit of homosexuality, a demon Christians can smell,” she said. “Every teaching I ever had made me feel disgusting, unclean and viewed as a deviant. They would have guests come regularly who would always pray for me in the same way. They’d lay their hand over my womb and tell me God has children for me and unless I become straight those children wouldn’t exist. It sounds ridiculous to be feeling guilty over non-existent kids but, believe me, I did.”

The woman claims she was told that lesbians’ sexuality made them a threat to children.

I wasn’t worthy of love from my own parents until I underwent some kind of cleansing to rid myself of parts of who I was.

A gay man

“For people who’d had the life experiences we had, who’d been sexually abused, this is the most painful thing,” she said. “To be accused of being capable of that just because we weren’t heterosexual still makes me feel sick to the stomach.”

A gay man Byline Times spoke to also claims to have experienced conversion therapy in the form of “exorcisms” when he was just 15. He said that the experience left him with “serious trauma” and resulted in him running away from home.

“I was convinced by my parents and minister that it was demonic to be gay,” he said. “Being so young I believed in what they were saying. It was terrifying, I felt so degraded. I suffered night terrors into my 20s because of it and I always questioned if it was actually me or some demon. I wasn’t worthy of love from my own parents until I underwent some kind of cleansing to rid myself of parts of who I was.”

He believes that conversion therapy is not generally discussed in the UK because the trauma that accompanies those who experience it is often “brushed under the carpet”.

“It wasn’t until I almost took my life in my 20s that I decided to start truly healing,” he added. “I still have some way to go but the worst is behind me.”

Stopping the Trauma

Fulfilling the promise to ban conversion therapy appears to be proving difficult.

According to the Minister for Equalities, Kemi Badenoch, there are a “wide range of practises” which fall under the scope of conversion therapy and the Government wants “to ensure we have a thorough understanding of the situation in the UK to inform an effective approach”.

The Government promised not just to ban conversion therapy but to “eradicate” it. Neither of the two people Byline Times spoke to believe it will be this simple.

“I don’t think it will magically disappear because it’s made illegal,” the woman said. “But I think it’s very important that we send a clear message to these people who believe in conversion therapy. I think that those who are damaged by conversion therapy should be able to hold those accountable for their conduct.”

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