You can’t cure love

Eoin Tennyson is an Alliance Councillor for the Lagan River DEA. 

It’s been more than two years since the UK Government published its LGBT Action plan which committed to end the practice of so-called ‘gay conversion’ or ‘reparative’ therapies – a range of denounced, discredited and dehumanising practices which seek to change a person’s sexual orientation or suppress their gender identity.

In that time we’ve heard promises repeated by the Prime Minister, but seen little in the way of tangible action or progress. Locally, the Department of Health has simply said there are currently “no plans” to ban the practice in Northern Ireland – with a spokesperson recently blaming the Covid-19 pandemic for the lack of action.

The therapy is based on the false and wholly unscientific belief that those of us who do not adhere to culturally prescribed norms are ill, and that our sexual orientation or gender identity can and should be changed. This is not only inherently degrading and grossly offensive, but can have a hugely damaging impact on the mental health and wellbeing of those subjected to it.

There has been medical and scientific consensus on conversion therapy for decades. The practice has been condemned as “unethical and potentially harmful” by every major counselling and psychotherapy body in the UK. Meanwhile, the UN’s independent expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity labelled it a “form of torture”.

The practice poses a huge risk to young and vulnerable LGBT+ people. A 2018 study by the Ozanne Foundation found that nearly 70 percent of conversion therapy survivors have had suicidal thoughts, 40 percent have self-harmed and nearly 25 percent have suffered from eating disorders.

In the context of all of this, It is unthinkable that “conversion therapy” is still being inflicted on LGBT+ people in the UK today. We do not need to be ‘cured’ – nor do we need more promises, platitudes or prevarications from government – we need primary legislation to protect us from this abhorrent practice.