You Can't Pray a Gay Away.

Updated: May 22, 2020

You needn’t have watched Boy Erased, the screen adaptation of Garrard Conley’s memoir of growing up in a Bible Belt fundamentalist family, to know that gay ‘conversion therapy’ is a bad thing. Given the choice of being disowned by his religious parents or attending a residential camp spouting dodgy psychology and pray-it-away fervour, he endures the inevitable failure of a bunch of quacks trying to turn him straight.

A melding of outdated behaviouralist techniques, cod psychoanalysis, spiritual interventions and some good old fashioned shaming, it’s an entirely discredited pseudoscientific practice pushed by the ‘Ex-gay’ movement that can cause mental and emotional harm to those subjected to it. As nasty as it is, there’s no denying it’s an improvement on previous attempts to ‘convert’ LGBTQ people back in the mid twentieth century: the ice pick lobotomy — supposed moral failings are easily rectified when you’ve had your prefrontal lobes mushed to blancmange.

Next year here in Britain, we’ll see our crisp, pink £50 notes with the face of Alan Turing, perhaps the most famous victim of gay conversion therapy as practised then. One of our greatest minds, whose brilliance broke the Nazi Enigma code and effectively swung the war in our favour, we repaid him for his heroic efforts with chemical castration for having sex with men. It caused a loss of libido, impotency and breast tissue to grow. He killed himself with cyanide within two years and is only now, over seventy five years after his death, getting the public recognition he deserves.

Given Turing’s rehabilitation, it’s an unwelcome surprise that the UK Government still hasn’t abolished gay ‘conversion therapy’, two years after Theresa May committed to do so in 2018. Why is this pernicious, debunked rubbish still being peddled?

The person you’d hope to be putting the nail in the proverbial coffin is doing exactly not that. Equalities minister Kemi Badenoch has said:

“Conversion therapy is a very complex issue, there are a wide range of practices which may fall within its scope and we want to ensure we have a thorough understanding of the situation in the UK to inform an effective approach.”

Er, sorry to sound like a stickler for detail but you did get the equalities bit in your job title? Conversion therapy isn’t a ‘very complex issue’, it’s a crock of shit that’s been condemned by every governing body and therapist who isn’t stark raving mad for many, many years. If you take the first five letters of your title you might find a helpful pointer: ‘EQUAL’.

No one is offering ‘straight conversion therapy’ to queer up the 2.4 bedroom. We give credit to those who fall in love with members of the opposite sex that they know themselves well enough to follow their cognitive, emotional and sexual instincts. So why are LGBTQ people condescended to by being offered this nonsense in 2020?

Religious conservatism aside, there is still the assumption that what is ‘normal’ and desirable to live a full and rich life is a heterosexual relationship. Sex or relationships that don’t fit into that are considered inferior, less than, ersatz. At its worst it is expressed through violence, both mental and physical, with gay conversion therapy belonging to the former. At a more subtle level it’s shown through a muted pity, as though we are missing out on what it’s really all about.

I love the fact that I’m gay, it’s made me who I am today. For some of the challenges it presented while I was growing up would I have chosen to be straight? No, not only because we don’t get a choice in what our sexuality will be but it would be saying I don’t like myself — there are enough bigots in the world happy to put the boot in without me helping them. Fortunately I got to an age where I can disregard the censure of others but many younger or vulnerable people being pushed into these ‘therapies’ aren’t there yet. They need support to learn self-acceptance, not being led on a wild goose chase for a ‘cure’ when there is nothing wrong with them.

Every human gets to an age when sexual desire begins to stir. It may be murky at first but by our mid teens most of us have an idea of who we are attracted to. Human sexuality is a great mystery. We don’t know why there is such variation and complexity. And that’s fine. Why do we need to know? What we do know is no one decides one day to be gay / straight / trans — delete as necessary. It’s just one intrinsic facet of being their individual person.

The British Psychological Society (BPS) opposes any psychological, psychotherapeutic or counselling treatments or interventions (often referred to as ‘reparative’ or ‘conversion’ therapies) that view same- sex sexual orientations (including lesbian, gay, bisexual and all other non-heterosexual sexual orientations) as pathological.

To not call out this outrageous practice for what it is is not only a dereliction of duty for anyone with the word ‘equalities’ in their title, it points to the continuing idea that to be LGBTQ is less than being straight. That our lives are tainted. In 2015 the UK’s leading health and psychology bodies, including NHS England, NHS Scotland and the British College of GPs, signed a memorandum of understanding denouncing gay conversion therapy. So why is Kemi Badenoch not completing the ban started under May’s government?

Our Prime Minister was Mayor of London, one of the most diverse and cosmopolitan cities in the world. That he has appointed an equalities minister who prevaricates on this issue is an insult to all those who have suffered this malpractice.

Martyn Fitzgerald

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