The UK government has said it is keeping its stance on gay ‘cure’ therapy “under review” – in a week that has seen the issue on the news agenda again.
Earlier this week PinkNews revealed that the Core Issues Trust, an evangelical Christian group which advocates for efforts to change sexual orientation, was planning to screen a documentary about people who claim to have been cured of homosexuality.
The film’s creators claim it features 15 people who have “come out of homosexual practises” thanks to therapy or religion – and challenges the “myth… that people are born gay”.
Conversion therapy is already illegal in several countries, two Canadian provinces and nine US states – but the UK government has previously rejected calls to take a harder line on the issue.
The NHS has signed up to a Memorandum of Understanding that bans it from referring anyone to conversion therapy services, but unregulated gay ‘cure’ therapists remain free to operate in the UK.
In a statement this week, the UK government said the issue remained “under review”.
Labour MP Sharon Hodgson had asked the Department of Health to confirm “whether the Department has made an estimate of the number people who have undertaken gay conversion therapy.”
Responding, health minister Jackie Doyle-Price said the government does not hold any statistics on the issue.
She said: “The Department does not hold an estimate of the number of people that have undertaken gay conversion therapy.
“In 2017, the Government Equalities Office carried out a survey of the experience of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the United Kingdom, which included several questions about gay conversion therapy.
“Whilst not a statistically representative sample, the survey received over 100,000 responses and will help us improve our understanding of the numbers of people who have undergone, or have been offered, gay conversion therapy.
“This is an issue the Government is keeping under review and we are constantly working towards improving the evidence base.”
She added: “The Government rejects utterly the notion that sexuality is something to be cured, and condemns gay conversion therapy.
“The evidence base is clear that conversion therapy is not only ineffective, but is potentially harmful to participants.
“That is why officials have worked with the main registration and accreditation bodies for psychotherapy and counselling practitioners, including the UK Council for Psychotherapy, to develop a Memorandum of Understanding to help put a stop to this bogus treatment.”
Responding to a petition in Parliament, it said: “The Government totally condemns any attempt to treat being gay, lesbian or bisexual as an illness, however, the Government does not believe creating a criminal offence is the right way forward.”
“The Government fully recognises the importance of this issue and the adverse impact this treatment could have on lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) people.”
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Speaking in September, Jackie Doyle-Price claimed that there was no evidence of “widespread” gay ‘cure’ therapy in the UK.
Her statement that the government was “not aware” of widespread instances of gay conversion therapy was pretty surprising, just one week after a gay cure therapist was interviewed on Good Morning Britain.
The therapy defies the consensus reached by medical, psychological and therapeutic organisations across the world.
Experts overwhelmingly agree that attempts to cure sexuality are futile, misguided, and often actually harmful.
Attempts to force teens to repress their sexuality has been linked to depression, self-harm and even suicide.
Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson said: “‘The association between so-called ‘conversion therapy’ and negative mental health outcomes for gay and bisexual people is strong.
“These are harmful religious ‘therapies’ rooted in homophobia, not science. The Government has a duty to end these harmful practices once and for all.
“Young people struggling with their sexuality deserve support to live confident, authentic lives without being made to feel shame due to outdated religious views about sin and sexuality.”