Current Affairs

Gay cure columnist ‘denied free speech’

Stephen Gray February 10, 2012
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The columnist behind a piece on ‘gay cure’ in a regional Jewish newspaper has said the widespread anger at her column shows the gay community is denying her the right to free speech.

Doreen Wachmann said her column on ‘gay cure’ in the Jewish Telegraph was not intended to be homophobic and that it was understandable that “homosexuals, after their history of persecution, are extremely sensitive about the issue”.

Her opinion piece, “Gays should be able to see if they can be ‘cured'”, was described by one rabbi as showing “shocking ignorance and malevolence towards gay Jews”.

She says in response to complaints: “I wrote my article because I was upset at the seemingly automatic assumption within the gay community that any mention of the possibility of ‘curing’ homosexuality equalled homophobia.

“This was why I began my article with ‘it’s scary publicly posing the question’ of whether gays can be ‘healed’ and why I ended it with the words ‘why should people be discouraged from even suggesting that road without being pilloried?’

“That is exactly what has happened to me this week. The reaction to my article proves that my freedom to express my opinion is being denied by the gay community.”

At one point in her original column, Wachmann had highlighted a particular doctor’s experience treating “desire for sex with the dead” before saying gays go to him “because they know he will respect their religious beliefs and help them heal their homosexual tendencies if that is their choice.”

She considered that gay ‘cures’ do not “always work”, adding that “medical procedures have potentially damaging side-effects. But patients are still encouraged to try them.”

In response to the column, Rabbi Mark Solomon, Manchester Liberal Jewish Community said: “Doreen Wachmann’s article “Gays should be able to see if they can be ‘cured’” displays a shocking ignorance and malevolence towards gay Jews.

“Gay people have been systematically stigmatised, marginalised and persecuted for many centuries, and are still subject to imprisonment, violence and death in many parts of the world. In the West our hard-won freedom to express our loving sexual nature, as gay, lesbian or bi people, is still brand new, vulnerable and precious.

“The consensus of all respectable medical and psychological opinion not fettered by fundamentalist religious dogma is that same-sex attraction is utterly natural and deeply ingrained in the personality, not a disease or pathology of any kind.

“The language of “cure” simply does not apply, and any suggestion that it does reeks of bigotry.”

The Jewish Telegraph’s editor Paul Harris defended Wachmann, saying: “She was open-minded and sympathetic to those who sometimes find themselves shunned by narrow-minded members of our own community and beyond.

“Yet she has been lambasted by some gay websites and by a small number of individuals whose letters we feature elsewhere in this edition. Mrs Wachmann is not herself a narrow-minded journalist. Were she to be so, she would not be offered a regular forum in this newspaper.”

He adds: “We are aware that gays, and particularly Jewish gays, do not always enjoy a good press and sometimes feel that they are discriminated against.

“We can assure them that neither this newspaper nor any of its columnists would knowingly criticise them or discriminate against them because of their sexual orientation. We believe their reaction against Mrs Wachmann was unnecessary and ill-founded. It really is a case of not shooting the messenger.”

In her response, Doreen Wachmann says she believes gays “are equally precious and valued members of our Jewish community”.

But, she adds, “religious Jews see this inability to mention the idea of ‘curing’ gays as an infringement of their right to free speech and to practise their religion”.

She adds that there are “many Jews with problems with their sexuality who are scared to discuss the issue with health professionals in this country lest they feel pressured to come out as gays, which may not be why they are seeking advice.”

Professor Andrew Samuels, Chair, UK Council for Psychotherapy told “No responsible psychotherapist would ever pressurise someone into coming out.

“One of the main criticisms of psychotherapists is that we never tell people what they should do, even if they ask! Psychotherapy is a safe place where people can discuss their sexuality and relationships (or lack of them).

“It really concerns me that the very people who are pressurising gay men and lesbians to change their sexual orientation because that is what their religion requires now try to stigmatise psychotherapists as bigots. It’s an utterly hypocritical manoeuvre.”

Wachmann concludes her letter saying: “In the meantime I really wish everyone well, regardless of their sexual orientation. At the end of the day sexuality is a very private and individual matter, which should be respected by all.”

More: gay cure, Judaism, Orthodox, Orthodox Jews, reparative therapy

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