Saturday, 22 January, 2022
E-paper

UK campaigners urge total ban on conversion therapy

LONDON: The UK government is being urged to bring in a total ban on conversion therapies that claim to change sexual orientation or gender identity.

Ministers have drawn up proposed legislation that would make it illegal to provide conversion therapies to minors or non-consenting adults, reports AFP.

But victims and campaign groups say it does not go far enough.

Leni Morris, of the LGBT+ anti-abuse charity Galop, said such therapies can take "a wide range of forms, including verbal, psychological, physical, and sexual abuse".

But unlike so-called "pray the gay away" camps in the United States, in the UK it is more likely to take place behind closed doors, including homes or community spaces.

"The most common form of conversion therapy in the West is done in a religious setting," said Jayne Ozanne, a leading evangelical figure in the Church of England.

She has been campaigning since 2015 against the "horrendous torture" of the therapy, which she went through herself for two decades.

She says the process usually begins with people conflicted over their sexuality seeking help from their church and prayer groups, which put them through "healing prayer ministry".

In her experience, she said she talked to "special Christian counsellors who tried to look at my past: at my sexual experiences, at my relationships with my parents".

"It sounds quite gentle, but... actually it's anything but", she said.

This approach "puts the pressure always on the victim", she explained, and as a result "the level of shame and self-hate is really high".

When this did not work, she sought out people with a "special ministry," who believe they can "deliver you of... the demon of homosexuality" through exorcism.

"I was hit by a Bible, you know, someone trying to hit the devil out of me a couple of times."

This was not the worst-case scenario, she stressed, since some victims are "violently beaten" and even "correctively raped" by family members "who are trying to show them that this will make you straight".

A UK government survey in 2017 indicated that five percent of LGBT+ people have been offered conversion therapy and two percent have undergone it.

But Morris said that likely masked the full extent of the practice, with many not even realising they have undergone it.

She called the practice "abuse" and said the effects can last a lifetime.

"Survivors have experienced serious psychological and emotional and sometimes physical trauma" that continues to affect their loving relationships and sex lives "years or even decades later", she added.

Ozanne, a member of the Church of England's governing body, the General Synod, pushed it to officially ban the practice in 2017.

The country's main associations of psychologists and psychiatrists outlawed such therapies in 2015, calling them "unethical and potentially harmful".

But the therapies are still being carried out today.

A government bill presented in late October proposes a jail term of up to five years for those who carry out conversion therapies on minors.

But it does not penalise "treatment" of adults when they are deemed to have freely consented.

While the draft bill was largely welcomed as a step forward by Galop and other LGBT+ groups, this clause has been widely criticised.

Campaigners insist that those who agree to conversion cannot be deemed to have freely consented.

Such therapies "nearly always take place within imbalanced power dynamics: parent and child, faith leader and congregant," said Morris.

"People who 'consent' to so-called conversion therapies are often financially and emotionally dependent on those asking them to do so.

"Refusal could result in social ostracisation".

Ozanne said she was pushed into the process by her social circle and upbringing.

"As a senior evangelical Christian, I truly believed who I was -- a woman attracted to women -- was sinful and wrong and unacceptable," she says.

"I willingly went through it. And I consented to it, but it nearly killed me."

The committed Christian still gets emotional many years later recalling how the traumatic experiences led her to spend two spells in hospital before she was finally able to come out and "accept who I was".

"That's why I know that we must ensure that we don't have a get-out clause" in the bill, she said.

The bill is due to be examined by parliament early next year.

"The ban is the first step", said Ozanne.

"Ultimately, we want to stamp this out" she said. "That will only happen with education, (with) people understanding why they shouldn't be doing this."