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Religious leaders from every major faith plead with Boris Johnson to ‘urgently’ ban traumatising conversion therapy

Lily Wakefield September 16, 2020
Prime Minister Johnson Speaks At Convention of the North In South Yorkshire

Boris Johnson. (Christopher Furlong - WPA Pool /Getty Images)

Religious leaders from every major faith and Christian denomination in the UK and Ireland are pleading with Boris Johnson to “urgently” ban conversion therapy.

Despite pledging to ban conversion therapy in 2018, Conservative Party leaders have only recently begun discussions on how to move forward. In July, prime minister Boris Johnson said conversion therapy “has no place in a civilised society”, but suggested that the government would have to do more research before banning the practice.

But the chair, vice chair and interfaith advisory board of the Ozanne Foundation, which works with religious organisations to support the LGBT+ community, has called for Johnson to “urgently” ban the horrific practice of conversion therapy and start protecting victims in an open letter, which PinkNews is printing in full below.

‘So-called conversion therapy must be banned once and for all.’

There can be nothing more important than safeguarding people’s lives, particularly at the start of their adolescent journey into understanding who they are. That is why we fully back the prime minister’s commitment, echoed recently by the secretary of state for health, to ban so-called “conversion therapy” once and for all.

As senior religious leaders we recognise the harm done by this discredited practice, which causes a person to attempt to change their sexual orientation or gender identity and condemns them for not conforming to certain stereotypes.

We also recognise that this is promoted and practiced primarily by well-meaning but misinformed people within our religions.

What is worse, it frequently impacts children and young people at a critical stage of their development, leaving deep scars that will affect them for the rest of their lives and undermining their ability to form loving and life-long relationships.

Let us be clear – this is not a matter of freedom of speech or of personal conscience. Conversion therapy objectively causes great harm – indeed it has been found to be torture.

This is not a matter of freedom of speech or of personal conscience. Conversion therapy objectively causes great harm – indeed it has been found to be torture

We cannot allow anyone to put themselves through this, no matter how much they may think they are doing “the right thing” according to their understanding of their holy texts. For they are misguided and the consequences are severe.

Survivors, we know, are frequently motivated to undergo such “therapy” because of a belief that who they are is “sinful”. Heartbreakingly, many carry a deep internal sense of shame due to their religious beliefs.

It is this internalised homophobia that causes such deep psychological damage. It must be countered by a far more positive message – central to all our religions – that recognises their unique individual worth, no matter what their sexuality or gender identity.

We know we are not alone in this belief – research has shown that the majority of those with a religious affiliation in the UK also support a ban, with only a small minority voting against.

Many are unaware of this horrific practice, which aims to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity to conform to certain stereotypes through a variety of interventions and religious rituals.

So, what should a ban look like? Well, we believe it must do three things.

Firstly, it must cover the full range of religious practices that people are tempted or coerced to undergo.

While conversion therapy outside a religious setting does still occur, it is rare. In the main the perpetrators are motivated by their religious beliefs, and the law must recognise and address that.

Secondly, it must explicitly protect trans people, who are at the greatest risk of undergoing change therapy.

Thirdly, it must ensure that there are no “loopholes” that will allow those who practice conversion therapy to offer help in “changing” or “suppressing” behaviour, for this is just as damaging.

UK conversion therapy religious
Two years since the government vowed to ban it, conversion therapy is still legal in the UK. (Juan Carlos Lucas/NurPhoto via Getty)

Why are we so set on a ban? Because only legislation will cause religious leaders to think twice – few will want to risk having a criminal record that would stop them following their vocation.

It will also, importantly, enable victims to know that they will be understood and protected if they seek help. The prevalence of conversion therapy has remained hidden in plain sight for a reason – speaking out is both traumatic and dangerous for victims.

Sadly, few do so as it ultimately risks them losing their entire support network – their friends, their family, their home and their work prospects. It is a trap few can escape.

We are therefore committed to working together with leaders across our religious organisations to ensure people are made aware of the significant safeguarding risks these discredited practices represent.

We urge them to adopt formal positions, such as the Church of England chose to do in 2017 when it called on the government for a ban on conversion therapy.

It is this work with religious groups that will ultimately enable us to eradicate this practice, but for that – we are clear – we first need a ban. We ask therefore that the prime minister make good his promise and urgently bring forward legislation.

Right reverend Paul Bayes, Bishop of Liverpool, chair of Ozanne Foundation
Very reverend David Ison, Dean of St Paul’s, vice-chair of Ozanne Foundation

With Ozanne Foundation’s Inter-Religious Advisory Board

Senior rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, senior rabbi to Reform Judaism
Reverend Michaela Youngson, former president of the Methodist Conference
Reverend David Mayne, moderator for Baptist Union Council
Dilwar Hussain, chair of New Horizons in British Islam
Anil Bhanot OBE, UK Hindu Council
Dr Jagbir Jhutti-Johal, lecture in Sikh studies, University of Birmingham
Ursula Halligan, chair of We Are Church in Ireland
Fredrick R Hyde-Chambers OBE, chair of UK Buddhist Chaplaincy Support Group

More: Baptist Union Council, Boris Johnson, conversion therapy, Methodist Conference, New Horizons in British Islam, Ozanne Foundation, reform judaism, torture, UK Hindu Council, University of Birmingham

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