Northern Ireland’s most famous female politician has said that she does not think all gay people need psychiatric treatment.
Iris Robinson was speaking in the Northern Ireland Assembly, where she is chair of the health committee.
A member of the Alliance party, Stephen Farry, had asked the province’s health minister “for his assessment of the mental-health needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups.”
The Minister, Michael McGimpsey, said that “anyone who has a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender sexual orientation often has specific and heightened mental-health needs arising from rejection or hostility from his or her family, the workplace and the wider community.
“I expect any treatment or support by health and social care staff to be offered in a way that is sensitive to the issues arising from a patient’s sexual orientation, and to be delivered in a way that leads to the best outcome.”
The minister was asked to confirm that “sexuality is biological and that it is not accepted practice in either psychiatry or psychotherapy to try to cure homosexuality.”
This was a clear reference to the row surrounding Mrs Robinson.
Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster’s Nolan Show last month, she was asked to comment on a homophobic assault that took place in Newtownabbey.
Stephen Scott, 27, was attacked by a gang of youths and suffered head and leg injuries. The police are calling the incident homophobic in nature.
Mrs Robinson suggested that he should consider therapy to “cure” him of his homosexuality.
She condemned the attack on Mr Scott but added:
“I have a very lovely psychiatrist who works with me in my offices and his Christian background is that he tries to help homosexuals trying to turn away from what they are engaged in.
“And I have met people who have turned around to become heterosexual.”
The Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety told the NI Assembly:
“As far as treatments are concerned, the issue is that although sexual orientations are not mental illnesses, members of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups do have specific mental-health needs.
“They experience discrimination, homophobic bullying, harassment, family rejection, and so on, often leading to suicidal behaviour and self-harm.
“The evidence suggests that there are higher than average levels of suicide and substance abuse among those groups.
“Therefore, their mental-health needs are commensurate, and they are entitled to be treated equally, and in a way that best deals with the problems that they encounter, and their reaction to those problems.
“In fact, one of the key principles of treatment is that taking a non-judgmental attitude lies at the heart of much of the therapeutic activity.”
Mrs Robinson, an MLA for Strangford, then asked a question, though she was barracked for appearing to make a statement.
“Over the past few weeks, some people have attempted to suggest that I indicated that homosexuality is a mental-health issue, and they have twisted everything that was said on Stephen Nolan’s radio show,” she said.
“I have got broad shoulders, and can take the brickbats that followed from that. However, nothing could be further from the truth. What I did say was that homosexuality —
Some Members: Ask a question.
Mrs I Robinson: I am getting to it. Homosexuality, like all sin, is an abomination. That is what I said. My point, however, is that there are some people —
Some Members: Ask a question.
Mr Deputy Speaker: Will the Member ask the question?
Mrs I Robinson: I am getting to the question.
Dr Farry: You are reading a statement.
Mrs I Robinson: No, I am not.
Dr Farry: Yes, you are.
Mrs I Robinson: Who is the Speaker here?
Mr Deputy Speaker: Will the Member come to the question?
Mrs I Robinson: I certainly will. Does the Minister agree that there are some people who, in their teenage years, are sexually confused, and that they could do with help from practitioners to assist them with talking therapies, to help them to realise exactly what they are — whether they are heterosexual or homosexual?
The Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety: I am not in a position to talk about sexual confusion. What I am in a position to do is to reflect what the American Psychiatric Association concluded.”
Earlier in the session Ulster Unionist MLA John McCallister made light of Mrs Robinson’s troubles.
“My colleague Basil McCrea and I are not wearing pink ties to wind up Mrs Iris Robinson,” he said.
“We are wearing them for a much more serious reason — to highlight the breast cancer campaign.”
A Police Service of Northern Ireland spokesperson confirmed to PinkNews.co.uk that an investigation is underway into Mrs Robinson’s comments, but would not comment on the number of complaints, which she said was normal procedure.
It is thought she is being investigated for a possible breach of the Public Order Act which deals with threatening behaviour and insulting words.
A meeting organised by the Coalition on Sexual Orientation (CoSo) last month was told than more than 100 complaints have been lodged with police about Iris Robinson.