Geraint Davies: Time to end conversion therapy

Being lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans is not an illness, and attempts to ‘cure’ LGBT people are as ineffective as they are harmful and dangerous. That’s why I’ve proposed a Private Member’s Bill to ban so-called conversion therapy altogether.

At the moment, counsellors and therapists are completely unregulated. Anyone can set themselves up as one with no training or proper oversight. While bad doctors can be struck off and barred from practicing in the UK, there’s no way of stopping conversion therapists or any other practitioner who is preying on vulnerable people and damaging rather than helping them. My bill would change that by making all therapists sign up to one code of conduct which would expressly ban conversion therapy. Anyone who went on to practice it would be struck off for good.

I’m pleased that these plans have backing right across the party. Labour is and has always been the party of LGBT equality. But clearly those who practice and defend this therapy are less than happy with my plans. At a conference of conversion therapists in London today I set out my proposals for regulation and explained the immense harm that LGBT ‘cures’ can cause. 

The key problem that I have is the starting point perpetuated by these groups that being LGBT is some sort of illness or moral disorder that requires treatment or correction. That is clearly offensive nonsense. In fact, the title of this particular conference, ‘Setting Love in Order,’ was based on a conversion therapy book ‘Setting Love in Order: Hope and healing for the homosexual.’ The expression that healing is required implies that there is a wound or illness in being LGBT. People’s sexual orientation doesn’t need treatment at all, people need to rejoice in and enjoy it. It’s good that we live in a world where people are free to express themselves.

Now the question is to what extent gay conversion therapy is present in the UK. A study by Professor Michael King of University College London found that something like one in six psychotherapists or psychiatrists had involved themselves with therapy to change a person’s sexual orientation from gay to straight. This is happening, and the NHS and the taxpayer is paying enormous sums of money for therapists. It’s important that taxpayers’ money is being invested in treatments that are bona fides and that deliver proven clinical benefits.

Conversion therapy does not deliver these proven benefits because it doesn’t work. There is no evidence that therapy can actually change a person’s sexual orientation and moreover the Royal College of Psychiatrists says that it encourages prejudice and discrimination. It causes trauma, guilt, and psychological damage, says the UK Council of Psychotherapy, and it has been condemned by the British Medical Association, the British Psychoanalytic Council and their counterparts in the United States.

In fact, just this week the Association of Christian Counsellors said that conversion therapy should be stopped in the interests of public safety. They said this because of the emerging evidence linking it to suicidal feelings. A study in the United States of some 202 people found that conversion therapy didn’t change the sexual orientation of 194 of them. In the case of the eight who claimed they had some change to heterosexuality, seven were practicing conversion therapists who may not have been entirely impartial. Amongst those who didn’t report a change, they found an increase in depression, suicidal thoughts, isolation and low self-esteem.

Vulnerable, impressionable people need the help, support and protection of a regulated system so that the good of the many is not tarnished by the damaging and irresponsible actions of the few. I hope that my proposals do become law so that we end the current scandal where those who need help the most are given the least protection.