This week, an event that looked into the damaging impacts upon our global community by reparative therapy was hosted as part of the Belfast Pride festival in conjunction with Northern Ireland's branch of Amnesty International.
Amnesty Northern Ireland have held many very successful annual lectures over the past five years at Belfast Pride and this year we saw a topic that is of particularly high interest. The venue was, as usual, displaying Amnesty's very poignant "Love is a Human right" placards.
Kicking off the event, an Amnesty official spoke to a packed function hall, welcoming the "diverse audience" and referencing the important dimension of the political side of Pride; campaigning against inequality, persecution and intolerance.
Award winning journalist Patrick Strudwick opened the event by discussing his own experience in investigating reparative therapy and those who provide such a "service". These conversion therapists are persistent in reinforcing insecurities within the vulnerable people who come to them. This is due to the attitude taken by such "therapists" being that if you are LGBT or struggling in some way with your sexuality, sexual identity or gender then there is something "wrong with you" and could be broken, wounded or perhaps even damaged or deranged.
Strudwick stated that this is tantamount to "intellectual hatred" concealed by a mask of love. The focus is never directed at reassuring aspects of a client's identity thus it removes any possibility of building positivity which genuine therapy aims to do. Instead we find these therapists reaffirming the devastating idea that there is something wrong with the individual, including the idea that it is something unnatural.
Such suggestions are masqueraded as loving or caring with a "we can cure you" standpoint which, ludicrous as it may seem, is something that attracts those who are less secure in themselves.
Upon discovering the disturbing extent of 'Gay Cures', Patrick lodged complaints with the British Medical Council and directly complained about specific psychotherapists; including one Lesley Pilkington who was found guilty of malpractice and of trying to "treat" Patrick of his homosexuality.
Patrick continued by highlighting potential links between conversion therapy businesses here in the UK and those found in America where the gay cure is commercialised to such an extent that individuals such as Alan Chambers (Exodus International) are in charge of over 260 ministries that preach a religiously extreme version of conversion therapy, despite the fact Chambers himself has admitted that in 99% of recorded cases this 'cure' does not work.
In fact, the only accredited scientific paper that produced evidence in favour of conversion therapy in 2003 was denounced by its own author Robert Spitzer who recently apologised for his "fatally flawed" study and concluded by saying, "I owe the gay community an apology".
During the same week as Dr. Spitzer wrote his apology, the World Health Organisation published a report that concluded such therapy is "a serious threat to the health and well-being - even lives of affected people".
Discussing the wider world, several countries were highlighted as using the same negative messages and stereotyping but with immensely more horrifying methods.
Ethiopia was of interest for its often violent exorcisms performed on gay people and the widespread use of 'corrective' rape - where a woman is brutally raped so as to 'cure' her of the 'illness' of being same sex attracted.
South Africa is also known as having endemic levels of 'corrective' rape with reports of a thirteen year old girl who openly declared her sexuality suffering this heinous crime. Amnesty International is currently running a campaign surrounding another victim; Noxolo Nogwaza, a 24-year old lesbian and active human rights defender who actively campaigned for LGBTI rights. Noxolo was murdered on the 24th of April 2011 after being raped, repeatedly beaten and stabbed.
Malaysia has an active government campaign to treat citizens for their "sexual orientation disorders" whilst Uganda simply has a 'kill the gays' solution.
Patrick clarified to the audience that while the countries discussed are African and Asian countries this is "not specifically or remotely an African problem" and that the ideology perpetuating psychological torture as conversion therapy originates in various places.
He finished by stating, "If we allow the idea to persist that LGBTI can choose their sexual orientation then we will never have true equality".
The evenings Q+A session was helped by the BBC's William Crawley and delved into varied topics, such as discussing the breach of ethical practice that occurs when psychotherapists use conversion therapy as a solution for those who struggle with sexuality and impose their own anti-gay values upon clients.
All helpers and healers are supposed to hold to the principle of 'do no harm' and it can clearly be demonstrated that those subjected to Conversion Therapy are often left with worsening mental health, linked even to contributing toward suicide amongst those who feel alienated, rejected and guilty due to the damage caused by the "gay cure".
Concerns were also raised over the injection of funds into corrective therapy by right wing religious elements that regularly use fear to unite people's focus upon a target - this occasion being the LGBT community.
A psychotherapist from the audience, who works with the LGBT community, stated that it is the homophobia in our society that causes the most damage as people are living in a society that rejects them on a daily basis due to the Paradigm being typically heterosexual.
Another dimension is, of course, that no specialist course exists allowing therapists to gain insight on LGBT community issues or even remotely promote Gay Affirmative Therapy. Thus very few psychotherapists are equipped to deal professionally with LGBT specific issues. Reportedly a result of this lack of training is that even those not actively practicing conversion therapies can mistakenly attempt to change feelings of sexuality which is highly damaging as it leads to early isolation of LGBTI people that seek help.
William Crawley finished by suggesting a strong path away from reparative therapy is to recognise that it is very easy for anyone to be homophobic toward an abstract entity but not something personal, like a son or daughter. Language is fundamentally important here: a shift can be made away from talking about sex and sexual activities and instead towards the topic of love recognising 'gay' as an identity which is not sexualised because love is difficult to render immoral whereas sex is a lot easier to distort.
After the event, Amnesty Northern Ireland's Patrick Corrigan briefly stated, "Amnesty will always fight the continuum of discrimination and persecution of LGBTI people worldwide and we will continue to highlight and eliminate these injustices"Suggest a correction