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MP John Nicolson recalls ‘chilling’ conversion therapist whose own son died as a result of his bigotry

Patrick Kelleher March 9, 2021
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Gay MP John Nicolson wants explanation for LGB Alliance charity status

SNP MP John Nicolson recounted his experience of interviewing a conversion therapist. (Ken Jack/Getty)

John Nicolson recounted his harrowing experience of interviewing a conversion therapist whose gay son died by suicide because of his father’s anti-gay views.

The Scottish National Party (SNP) MP, who worked for both the BBC and ITV before entering politics, reflected on the unsettling interview during a debate in Westminster Hall on Monday evening (8 March).

Nicolson was one of 20 MPs who spoke as part of the debate, which was brought about by a petition to government calling on the UK to ban conversion therapy.

“Converting gays – just ponder for a moment how primate that concept is,” the gay MP began.

He said the practice is a “cruel hangover from a darker time” when people saw being LGBT+ as a “flaw”.

Reflecting on his own experience of growing up gay, Nicolson said he often wished he could take a “magic pill” to make himself straight.

“I now know that’s not because I hated being gay, but because I didn’t want to be the victim of prejudice. Who does? We know there is no magic pill, nor do we need one. We need love and acceptance. LGBT+ conversion is the very antithesis of that – it promises a cure where none is available nor is it needed.”

Nicolson said changing a person’s sexual orientation is “scientifically impossible, but that doesn’t stop bigots from trying”.

John Nicolson interviewed an ‘utterly untrained’ conversion therapist

He continued: “Some in this house know I was a journalist before entering politics, and I once made a film for the BBC in which I interviewed a conversion therapist. It was one of the most chilling encounters of my career.

“The man in question, utterly untrained, advertised himself as offering the last chance at a normal life. He preyed on the young and the vulnerable, teenage boys and men in their early 20s, terrified of who they were. He talked of weak fathers and overbearing mothers.”

John Nicolson sat in on one session, which he described as “absolute gibberish”.

When Nicolson asked the man what his motivation for trying to change queer people’s identities was, the man revealed that his own son, who was gay, had died by suicide.

The man’s son wrote two suicide notes – one to his father and one to his boyfriend. The conversion therapist showed Nicolson the suicide note, in which the deceased boy pleaded with his father to “understand his anguish”.

“He couldn’t reconcile his certainty that he’d been born gay with the church’s teachings, and he implored his dad to befriend his boyfriend and learn acceptance,” Nicolson said.

Sadly, the father responded by “redoubling his efforts to convert and confuse the young”.

“We must protect society from men like him,” Nicolson said, before urging the government to take action and ban the fraudulent practice.

MPs from various political parties spoke at length during Monday night’s debate about the need for the government to urgently legislate to outlaw conversion therapy across the UK.

The debate signalled strong cross party support for legislation, while many drew attention to the need for trans people to be included in any efforts to ban the pseudoscientific practice.

Related topics: conversion therapy, John Nicolson

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