Why banning ‘conversion therapy’ is more dangerous than you think

Labour MP and longstanding LGBT activist Geraint Davies has published a backbench bill to ban ‘conversion therapy’ in the UK. So-called conversion therapy – also called reparative therapy or sexual reorientation therapy – is therapy designed to change one’s sexual orientation from homosexual (or other) to heterosexual.

The bill does not have the support of the government so is unlikely to become law. However, such bills are a way of MPs raising issues and placing pressure on the government to act. With the government making a priority of LGBT concerns and LGBT activists seeing ‘conversion therapy’ as a key battleground globally (with the Australian state of Victoria set to bring in a ban soon) and locally (the Church of England’s General Synod led by LGBT activist Jayne Ozanne, Bishop Paul Bayes and Archbishop John Sentamu, voting and calling on the government to ban it) it is not hard to see such a measure making its way into government policy before very long, particularly as the government has already indicated its intention to bring a ban in. Here’s why we should be concerned.

You might think it’s fair enough to ban people from offering ‘therapy’ to try to ‘cure’ people from being gay, especially if you take sexual orientation to be basically fixed and attempts to alter it as psychologically harmful. Certainly there are many horror stories, particularly from early 20th century psychiatric practice – lobotomies, electric shock therapy and the like.

But the proposed law is more far-reaching than you might imagine. It would make it an offence to attempt to ‘change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, or suppress a person’s expression of sexual orientation or gender identity’ (my italics).

So it’s not just therapy for gay people it would ban, it’s therapy for transgender people as well. It would prohibit any effort to help someone who suffered with gender dysphoria to accept and live as their biological sex, even if they wanted such help. It would require everyone to affirm people’s claims about what their ‘gender identity’ is and make it a criminal offence to take any action (even if requested by the person themselves) aimed at bringing their psychology in line with their biology.

Seeing this, many people might wish to draw a clear line between transgender conversion therapy and gay conversion therapy. The latter they might be fine with banning, while the former they would not, because they regard transgenderism as evidently a product of mental confusion.

If that is what you think, it should give you pause for thought that activists are now frequently joining the two together. LGB tends now to come with T, after all. This conjoining of transgender and gay conversion therapy is likely why the Royal College of Psychiatrists removed its name from the most recent Memorandum of Understanding on Conversion Therapy in the UK.

Another reason to be concerned is the impact on freedom of conscience and freedom of religion. Notice that the law would ban all attempts to suppress the expression of sexual orientation. This includes any moral or religious teaching that says that sexual activity should be reserved for (traditional) marriage. So it wouldn’t just ban trying to change a person’s sexual orientation, it would ban any expression of moral or religious teaching that counselled against engaging in gay sex.

It was the realisation of this by churches in California last year when an attempt was made to bring in a ban that led to them opposing it vocally, and succeeding in seeing it dropped. Since this is a very common teaching in world religions, including Christianity, Judaism and Islam, there is nothing tolerant about such an illiberal measure.

A third reason to oppose a ban on ‘conversion therapy’ is the same as the reason such therapy (albeit under a different name) is offered by so many professional clinicians around the world: because it works. Not every time, obviously, in fact not even a majority of the time – but no less often than is typical for many psychological therapies.

These are not old-fashioned aversion therapies and there is nothing coercive or shaming about them. They are just standard talking therapies, such as a person might engage in for any condition they are unhappy about. Many people who experience same-sex attraction would rather they didn’t so much, maybe because they are married to someone of the opposite sex with a family or maybe because they would like to be. Or maybe for religious or other personal reasons. Whatever the motivation, it is not an uncommon experience and professional help is available and known to be effective in a respectable proportion of cases.

Consider former gay activist James Parker. He writes: ‘As a contented gay male I entered into regular therapy in early adulthood. The goal was not to change sexuality (I didn’t believe that was necessary and was told categorically by my LGBTQ elders that it was not even possible), but rather to deal with some of the poor boundaries I experienced in my friendships …. In brief, over the period of a few years I had morphed into a very different person to the one who had originally embarked upon therapy. The greatest change was that I left therapy feeling significantly more sexually attracted to women than I did to men. That had never been the plan, so nobody was more shocked than me.’

He quotes from a 2018 New Zealand study of religious men led by Neil Whitehead, which backs up his own experience: ‘As found in previous surveys, there was real change, little harm, much good, completely opposite to the findings of the [2009 American Psychological Association] report. A number changed a dramatic extent – from nearly completely same-sex attraction to nearly completely opposite-sex attracted. About two thirds moved a significant amount, and the rest mainly did not show any change. A very few actually became more same-sex attracted. However, it was rather remarkable how much therapy was found to be very beneficial, even among those who did not change. One can surmise they had lots of help for other issues and found real fellowship in the support groups.’

Dermot O’Callaghan at the Core Issues Trust cites a 2004 survey of professional psychiatrists: ‘In 2004 Prof Michael King, a leading figure in the Royal College of Psychiatrists, carried out a survey of professionals in the field [1] and found that ‘only a small minority believed that current practice denied people distressed by their homosexuality an effective means to change their sexual orientation.’

‘This is a remarkable statement: as recently as 2004 most professionals – who had first-hand experience of therapies – believed that people unhappy with their same-sex feelings could find ‘effective’ ways to change. Yet anyone holding that view today is liable to be struck off by their professional body. Why? Has the evidence changed? No, the evidence has been overcome by ideology.’

Three reasons, then, to be wary of the conversion therapy bans that are going to keep rearing their heads over the coming years: because they often bring transgender therapy bans along with them; because they are illiberal and trample on freedoms of conscience and religion; and because the evidence is that therapy sometimes works and is not generally harmful. Three reasons not to jump on board the latest ‘progressive’ LGBT bandwagon careering headlong through our liberties.

[1] King M, Smith G, Bartlett A. “Treatments of homosexuality in Britain since the 1950s–an oral history: the experience of professionals.” British Medical Journal 2004 328 (7437):429.

First published at Rebel Priest



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