Gay Conversion Therapy – Why is this controversial practice still legal in the UK?


Gay Conversion Therapy – Why is this controversial practice still legal in the UK?

The controversial therapy for sexuality conversion has a long, dark history filled with homophobia and abuse. To this day it continues to traumatise a new generation of our LGBT community. So why, and how, is the practice still legal?

By Andrew Cook

Gay Conversion Therapy. The three words that every young LGBT person fears to hear the moment they are brave enough to come out to their parents. Yet, these procedures are still very much alive, thriving, and completely legal throughout Scotland and the rest of the UK.

What is it?

Gay conversion therapy, or “reparative therapy” is the method by which a homosexual individual (or an individual not identifying as heterosexual or to gender ‘norms’) supposedly changes their sexual orientation to heterosexuality. The methods vary, but they are damaging, highly hurtful, and psychologically traumatising for the individuals in question.

It is also still extremely widespread throughout the UK. According to a government survey of 108,000 people, 2% of respondents had undergone these therapies, and a further 5% been offered use of them. Among the Trans community, these statistics are practically doubled. With 4% having undergone some form of conversion therapy and another 8% being offered it.

Why should it be banned?

These controversial practices have a long and questionable history, however there is absolutely no scientific evidence to support the idea that the sexuality of an individual can be changed or ‘cured’ with any amount of therapy; in fact every single major psychological association across the world denounces and rejects the practice.

These claims are reinforced by reformed pioneers of the therapy. Many conversion therapists have spoken out against their former careers and the methodologies they once employed.

Among these individuals is Mckrae Game, former founder of the program ‘Hope for Wholeness.’ After spearheading his conversion therapy program for two decades, he came out as a gay man in 2017 and has been attempting to atone for his past mistakes by speaking out against the practice. ‘I was a religious zealot that hurt people’ Game confessed, ‘People said they attempted suicide over me and the things I said to them. People, I know, are in therapy because of me. Why would I want that to continue?’

The world of conversion therapy that Game was involved with is, at best, insidious, and at its worst, traumatic and scarring. With more extreme methods including ‘electroshock therapy’, there is no doubt as to the severity of these practices.

The barbarity of electroshock therapy includes having a person subjected to vast and constant amounts of pain in order to associate these stimuli with their sexuality. This psychological trauma is tantamount to a replication of the famous tests by Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov, and his conditioning of dogs to react to buzzers.

This process is not a cure. This pavlovian theory of stimulus and conditioned response is habitual learning and a simply repression of who we are. This effectively locks many people ‘back in the closet’ just to avoid the horror, agony, and trauma of these procedures.

 If it’s so terrible, why is it still legal?

Unfortunately, the therapy is still alive and thriving today for one simple reason, its ability to rebrand. While the more extreme forms of therapy are hard to hide, and impossible to justify, it also contains more elusive and more cunning aspects.

‘Reintegrative Therapy’ is the new brand name for these treatments. A name implying a gentle return to a natural state, rather than a forced crossover, is a large part of the rebranding technique being employed.

They now treat sexuality change not as a goal, but as an inadvertent side-effect of dealing with other issues. As the Reintegrative Therapy Association states ‘Clients are not encouraged to change their sexual orientation, rather they resolve trauma and addictions using evidence-based treatment approaches. Changes in sexuality are the by-product’

This is a terrible insinuation implying that homosexuality exists only as an effect of trauma, and is also the reason that it is so difficult to ban the practice outright. As long as this reintegrative therapy pretends to be be an aid for the psychologically traumatised, it will be portrayed as a psychotherapy service by those with more sinister agendas.

What are the politicians saying?

The majority of parties within our parliament are advocating for an outright ban on these outdated practices.

The SNP outright opposes LGBT conversion therapy. In their manifesto the SNP declare that ‘SNP MPs will press the UK government to reform laws and regulations, which are reserved to Westminster, to ban and prevent the practice of LGBTI conversion therapy.’

An early day motion tabled in Westminster in May 2020 was supported by SNP MPs Hannah Bardell and Mhairi Black: “That this House condemns the continued practice of gay and transgender conversion therapies in the UK; notes that this practice has been linked to an increased risk of suicide, poor mental health and substance abuse; recognises that the Government has pledged to ban such practices in their LGBT Action Plan 2018 but has yet to bring forward those plans; further notes that many other jurisdictions have banned this abhorrent practice including most recently Germany; and calls on the Government to expedite plans to introduce a ban on conversion therapies in order to protect the UK’s LGBT+ Community.”

The Conservative party, released an LGBT+ Action Plan in July 2018, declaring that ending conversion therapy was a priority, with some ministers describing it as ‘abuse of the worst kind’, and declaring that the practice ‘must be stamped out.’ However, two years on, it seems their passion for the cause has faded, with the Conservative Equalities Minister, Kemi Badenoch, stating that the therapy is ‘a very complex issue.’

This has brought the Party under considerable fire from both the Labour party and  the Liberal Democrats. With both parties strongly against conversion therapy, former Shadow Equalities Secretary, Dawn Butler, has recently been criticising the government for half-baking their action plans and demanding that ‘after years of empty rhetoric and broken promises, we need to see concrete actions’.

Liberal Democrats Equalities Spokeswoman, Christine Jardine, also stated ‘we will be keeping up the pressure until we see exactly what these promises mean in reality.’ A rather cynical view indeed, though perhaps not unwarranted, as Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been disparaging on homosexuality in the past – comparing gay marriage to three men marrying a dog, and flippantly referring to homosexuals as ‘tank-topped bumboys.’

So what will happen?

The support and arguments for the ban are overwhelming. The scientific community, LGBT networks, all major global psychological associations, and political parties are all advocating an end to this torture masquerading as therapy.

The truth is, that we will only see this change with a burst of conviction from the government, or perhaps, like the Lernaean Hydra, we will cut off this latest head, and another, more sinister form will grow back in its place.