Netflix’s new documentary Pray Away follows the actions of Exodus, a religious group who told LGBTQ+ members – and their families – that they could change who they were. This important film follows survivors and former leaders of the group, many of whom have now renounced the ‘church’.
While it can be easy to think of conversion therapies as something of the past, conversion practices can – and do – still happen to lesbian, gay, bi, trans, queer, intersex and ace people across the United Kingdom today.
So, what actually is conversion therapy?
Conversion therapy is any intervention that seeks to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Conversion therapies work towards one goal, and that goal is to ‘cure’ someone from being lesbian, gay, bi, trans, ace, intersex and/or queer.
Conversion practices are one-directional: the intention is to get a person to change or cancel their sexual orientation or gender identity. This is the opposite of appropriate, affirming and healthy therapy or counselling, which will support an individual who is exploring their sexual orientation or gender identity whatever the outcome may be.
Why do we need a ban?
LGBTQIA+ people don’t need to be cured, and interventions that seek to make a person straight or cisgender can and do cause significant long-term harm to victims. Conversion practice is abuse, and it must be banned, in every setting and for everyone subjected to it.
Without a ban, conversion practices will continue to put our communities at risk of lifelong psychological damage. The National LGBT Survey 2018 found that 7% of LGBT+ people have been offered or undergone conversion therapy. Trans respondents were almost twice as likely to have undergone or been offered conversion therapy (13%), while asexual people were also at a higher risk of being offered or undergoing conversion therapy (10%).
Where is conversion therapy happening in the UK?
Often people are surprised at how close a victim of conversion therapy is to the person or organisation who conducted it. The Government’s National LGBT Survey (2018) found that one in five (19%) of those who had conversion therapy were offered it through healthcare and medical settings, 16% were subjected to it by a parent, guardian or family member, and a further one in ten (9%) from a member of their community.
But by a large margin, most victims of conversion practices went through it in a faith setting. Over half (51%) of those subjected to a form of conversion therapy reported it was conducted by a faith organisation or group.
Why must conversion therapy be banned in faith settings?
With such a high proportion of conversion practices taking place in faith settings, it’s vital that these would be included in a ban of conversion therapy.
Some LGBTQIA+ people take years to reflect on and explore their sexual orientation and/or gender identity, and many rely on the help of therapists, psychologists, and religious leaders or communities to support them through that process. Spiritual exploration or counselling in an open and affirming manner can be a massive support for a person.
But, if spiritual guidance, counselling or prayer takes the form of coercing a person to cure themselves of their sexual orientation or gender identity, this is not exploration or counselling. It is conversion therapy, and it is abuse.
It is important to be clear that a ban is not about restricting prayer or criminalising regular religious or faith-based activity. There is no question that freedom of religion or belief is a crucial and fundamental right, and one which is a central and cherished part of life for many LGBTQIA+ people. But there is no freedom or right that grants a licence to harm, abuse or torture another person.
How can you help Ban Conversion Therapy in the UK?
More than three years ago, the Government promised to ban conversion therapy, and later this year they will publish a consultation into what that Bill will include.
A conversion therapy ban will only be effective if it covers every single LGBTQIA+ person, both adults and children, and in every setting – including religious and faith-based settings.
When that time comes, we will need your help. Sign up to our mailing list below to receive updates and campaign actions when the time comes.
You can help us ban conversion therapy.
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