Warning: This article discusses conversion therapy in detail as well as suicide.
A spotlight is highlighting the ongoing practice of conversion therapy in the United Kingdom, despite it being labelled as “dehumanizing” and “degrading” in a recent report by United Nations.
Conversion therapy is defined as having the aim of changing a person’s sexual orientation or to suppress one’s gender identity.
It can take many forms, ranging from prayer sessions, electro-shock therapy and pseudo-medical procedures to corrective rape and exorcism.
The UN report, presented to the global human rights body by Victor Madrigal-Borloz, called for a worldwide ban, saying, “It not only inflicts severe pain and suffering but also leaves physical and long-lasting psychological damage.”
In Canada, an amendment to the Criminal Code was proposed in March that outlined the creation of five new offences to outlaw the practice.
That legislation, however, is on hold as lawmakers have only been dealing with issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The practice is banned in a number of provinces including Ontario and Manitoba, as well as several cities such as Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton.
There have also been a number of surveys, reports, and studies on the topic, including one by The Trevor Project, published in the July issue of The American Journal of Public Health.
One of the key findings was that “LGBTQ youth who underwent conversion therapy were more than twice as likely to report having attempted suicide and more than 2.5 times as likely to report multiple suicide attempts in the past year compared to those who did not.”
“There are many in the community who want to practice this saying it is a freedom of speech issue, and no, it is not a matter of freedom of speech. This is torture,” said Jayne Ozanne, a well-known gay evangelical working to support LGBTQ2 people of all faiths.
“Most who have gone through it have been scarred. They’ve likely, as I did, lost most of their friends and often family members, too,” Ozanne said.
In the U.K., a ban has been talked about going back at least seven years.
In 2017, The Church of England called for the U.K. government to take action and ban the practice after Ozanne put forward a motion in January of that year.
The following year, in July, Rt. Hon. Minister for Women and Equalities Penny Mordaunt promised, “We will bring forward proposals to end the practice of conversion therapy in the U.K.
“These activities are wrong, and we are not willing to let them continue.”
Two years later, however, there has still been no concrete action.
An online petition is gaining traction in part because of a large number of celebrities and activists, such as Munroe Bergdorf and Elton John, who have championed the cause by sharing the link on social media and signing an open letter to the government.
That petition was launched by 15-year-old Mahed Asad.
“I have LGBT friends and I just thought of them going through that psychological trauma and in some cases physical trauma and that struck me,” said Asad.
Now, the petition has received more than double the support necessary to bring the issue before Members of Parliament for a possible debate on the matter.
“To see the overwhelming support shows society is more understanding and more progressive than you’d think and the unwavering support that the LGBT community really does have,” said Asad.
With the current session coming to an end, however, and MPs soon leaving for summer break, those with advocacy group Stonewall fear what more delays will mean for vulnerable community members.
“Every day, every week that goes by where conversion therapy is still lawful and practiced, then the more LGBT people will continue to be offered and undergo conversion therapy,” said Josh Bradlow, policy manager with Stonewall.