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Don’t ban so-called “conversion therapy”

The government is legislating for private conversations between adults

This week in the Queen’s speech, the government announced that it plans to legislate to ban so-called “conversion therapy”. It is worth noting first of all that there is no agreed definition of “conversion therapy”. No British therapists have ever used the term “conversion therapy” to describe what they do, let alone any churches. Abusive practices that people may have in mind when they think of “conversion therapy” are in fact already illegal. All that therapists and their clients want to be able to do is to have a conversation about sexual attractions. Some clients would also value prayer. Should the government really be banning private consensual conversations or prayers?

Some campaigners are clear that they want such consensual conversations or prayers to be criminalised and they will not be satisfied with anything less. But are these the kinds of people that the government should be listening to?

Boris Johnson has since suggested that prayer will not be criminalised, but just what would be criminalised? Conversations about sexual attractions appear to be the target. No free society should ever contemplate criminalising private conversations, yet this is what the government seems intent on doing. Anyone who cares about free speech should realise just how totalitarian and oppressive banning certain types of consensual conversations actually is.

A professional ban on “conversion therapy” is already in effect due to the Memorandum of Understanding on Conversion Therapy (MoU). We have now seen the devastating effects of this on gender confused children who went to the Tavistock clinic for help. Concerned about the risk of being accused of “conversion therapy”, the clinicians dared not question the self-identification of the child. Instead, they would affirm the acquired gender and move on to prescribing in some cases physically harmful treatments like puberty-blockers. It took a High Court case to put a halt to such prescriptions. That the professional ban on “conversion therapy” was the root cause of this is not widely recognised but was clearly exposed in an academic article by a former Tavistock director. It is high time the professional ban was ended so that clinicians need not fear sanctions for talking to people who desperately need a sensible conversation.

I have personally met dozens of people whose lives have been turned around by talking therapy about sexual attractions

A legal ban takes things a whole lot further. It would not just be professionals who risk sanctions, but parents, friends, teachers — anyone. A leading QC has said that banning “conversion therapy” would criminalise parents who want to stop their children seeking transgender treatment. Should it really be illegal to tell your child that they are better off identifying according to their biological sex?

The government also announced the creation of a support fund for LGBT people impacted by “conversion therapy”. It is not clear how one would apply to this fund. What is clear, is that the promise of money for victims will encourage people to come forward and make claims to be a victim. What would such a claim entail? Presumably people will claim that they were harmed by a private conversation or a prayer. How will such claims be assessed? Should the government be encouraging reporting private conversations with the promise of money? Is this the kind of society the government wants? 

Some people feel regret or dissatisfaction about every kind of counselling or therapy. This is not to be equated with actual harm, which is not demonstrated by scientific studies, nor even claimed in the Memorandum of Understanding.

What is worse is that those whose conversations are reported would risk criminal sanctions. Let that sink in. For a therapist to be convicted of “conversion therapy”, a client needs to accuse them of having had the wrong type of conversation. The government will be encouraging a snitcher’s society where your victim gets a criminal record if you succeed, and you get a financial reward for your efforts.

There have already been “sting” operations against therapists by LGBT activists. Christian Concern defended Christian counsellor Leslie Pilkington back in 2012 when a homosexual activist pretended to want help for unwanted sexual attraction.  He was rewarded by seeing her struck off by the BACP. Should the government incentivise entrapment to criminalise what is said in private?

I have personally met dozens of people whose lives have been turned around by talking therapy about sexual attractions. Some of their stories are featured on the X-Out-Loud website. They were struggling with unwanted sexual attractions. All they really needed was someone they could trust to talk to about it. Should the government criminalise helping people who want to be helped?

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