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UK News

Church conversion therapy debate reignited as campaigners pressure Gov for a ban

by Tola Mbakwe

A coalition of LGBT, mental health and faith organisations have renewed their calls for a ban of conversion therapy. 

They say the end of March it will have been 1,000 days since the UK Government promised to make the act of trying to change or repress someone's sexual orientation illegal. However, no action has been taken. 

On top of a full legislative ban, the Ban Conversion Therapy campaign, want "publicly funded specialist support services for current victims and survivors of historical cases" and "A UK government led engagement programme to bring together religious leaders with expert mental health professionals" for prevention and public education purposes. 

Jayne Ozanne is a gay evangelical Christian and founded an organisation in her name that works with religious organisations to eliminate discrimination. 

She told Premier the Government must see the issue as a matter of urgency. 

"People are being traumatised, people are being hurt right now, often in churches, and other religious settings, and indeed, in medical and mental health practices. We have to bring in legislation to stop this trauma."

According to the UK Government's 2018 National LGBTQIA Survey, two per cent of LGBTQIA people have been through conversion therapy, and a further five per cent have been offered it. 

Fifty-one pet cent of people who'd been through it received it in a faith setting and 19 per cent received it from healthcare professionals.

Ozanne said conversion therapy can be deeply harming to someone's mental health and rejected the idea that conversion therapy can be done without harm. 

"The statistics are very clear the mental health impact on those who are put through [conversion therapy], whether they believe that they've consented or whether they've been forced, means that two-thirds have severe mental health problems. The level of attempted suicide and suicidal thoughts are exceptionally high, they're double the normal average. 

"This is known to cause harm, we've got the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the British Council of Psychotherapists, the whole coalition of mental health practitioners coming together today to join us to say 'we need a ban'. We know this causes great harm.

"The UN itself has called this torture, and it's about time, we stopped the fake news of pretending that we think we can change people. God does not heal something that does not need healing. And instead, people need to look at the damage they're doing, and recognise the harm they've caused."

In July 2017, the Church of England asked the Government to ban conversion therapy. However, some Christian organisations believe conversion therapy can be done without causing harm or ill mental health. 

There is currently a debate on whether a conversion therapy ban should include stopping a pastor from praying for someone who wants prayer about unwanted sexual feelings. 

Ed Shaw, pastor of Emmanuel City Centre Bristol, and a same-sex attracted Christian, told Premier the UK needs a ban that only stops cruel and forced attempts to change someone's sexual orientation. 

"What we need is a targeted ban that stops coercive attempts to change someone's sexuality or gender, but not a clumsy ban that stops someone like me from accessing good counselling or a support group, or pastoral care or prayer as I seek to live with my sexuality. 

"My worry is that some of the language that's been suggested as being part of the legislation could stop good care of people like me happening in a Christian context, and actually could have wider implications, not just for LGBT people, but for other people who are seeking to get counselling, prayer and help as they seek to live with their sexuality."

Pastor Shaw believes that it should not be illegal to help someone "supress" his or her sexuality. 

"If we allow the language of suppression, to come into government legislation, that could have damaging effects, not just on LGBT people, but also on other people who are seeking to live with their sexuality. 

"So, yes, let's ban attempts to change people's sexual orientation. But let's make sure that we don't stop people accessing the help they feel they freely need to live with their sexual orientation."

When asked why she thinks the Government hasn't take action on its pledge to ban conversion therapy yet, Ozanne told Premier she felt it was because of changes in administration and a large focus on Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic.

Meanwhile, Pastor Shaw attributed the delay to the wording in proposed legislation. 

"I think the government's made a commitment, which is a good commitment to get rid of a bad thing. At the same time, it's struggling to make sure that in banning the bad thing, they don't also ban good things like a Christian pastor praying with a member of their church family who's struggling…"

Parliament will debate the issue on 8th March after a petition calling for a ban on conversion therapy got more than 256,000 signatures. 

Listen to Premier's interview with Jayne Ozzane here: 

Listen to Premier's interview with Pastor Ed Shaw here: 

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