A English lawmaker has introduced a bill to ban ex-gay therapy throughout the UK.
Geraint Davies, Labour MP for Swansea West, has proposed a private members bill called the Counsellors and Psychotherapists (Regulation) Bill. The legislation, which has cross-party backing, will call for closer regulation of psychotherapy, formally state that ex-gay therapy is not an appropriate treatment for distress surrounding sexual orientation, and call for therapists who try to push ex-gay therapy to be banned from practicing.
This would formalize what are already standard guidelines used by the UK’s medical services who have condemned the practice of ex-gay therapy as potentially harmful and inappropriate.
Mr Davies, MP, is quoted as saying about the bill:
“This year a million Britons will seek psychotherapy, but currently anyone can set themselves up as a psychotherapist with no training or recourse for the patient when something goes wrong.
“This gives a free rein to those offering bogus treatments like conversion therapy. It’s a scandal that someone can offer this discredited, so-called treatment and still call themselves a professional therapist.
“The only way to stop this awful practice is to make regulation compulsory and to strike off anyone attempting to ‘cure’ a person’s sexual orientation.”
Earlier this year, an Early Day Motion was introduced by Sandra Osborne, Labour MP for Ayr Carrick and Cumnock, that sought to ban ex-gay therapy from being offered by the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) — that is to say, paid for by the public — to those under the age of 18. Davies then offered an amended version that would ban the practice in its entirety. Mr. Davies has now decided to push the law in the House.
The Bill is expected to have its second reading debate on November 22, 2013, at which point a more accurate measure of support might be available.
However, the bill may face an uphill climb. The bill will need formal backing of party leaders and, simply due to other procedural matters, a busy legislative priority list appears unlikely to give the bill much room to gather momentum in the near-term, especially because next year campaigning will begin in earnest for the UK’s 2015 general election.
As such, this important bill might be seen as more of a first step toward writing into statute a ban on ex-gay therapy and a closer regulation of psychotherapy as a whole.
Yet it is likely to meet strong resistance from religious conservatives who have shown a keen interest in exploiting ex-gay therapy to keep alive religious privilege.
Ex-Gay Therapy in the UK: More Vocal and More of a Threat
While ex-gay therapy is not perceived as a major issue, the practice of attempting to offer cures to gay people appears to have gained ground in recent years.
Gay journalist Patrick Strudwick went undercover in 2009 and exposed how a number of therapists were offering gay cure therapies. In particular, Strudwick received two counselling sessions from Ms. Leslie Pilkington who offered to provide him with “Christian” counseling to overcome his so-called same-sex attraction.
Strudwick later made a formal complaint to the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), which found Ms. Pilkington guilty of professional malpractice in 2011. While Pilkington appealed that particular charge, she remains unable to practice pyschotherapy in the UK.
What’s more, there’s a rising Christian evangelical influence that has been partly aided by special interest groups with strong links to the United States, a small but vocal group of so-called ex-gays who have made their presence felt in the UK.
A recent flashpoint has been Transport for London’s refusal to allow an ex-gay slogan “Not Gay! Ex-Gay, Post-Gay and Proud. Get over it!” to appear on the side of London buses. An ex-gay group backed by the religious conservative Core Issues Trust, which appears to have heavy ties with the widely discredited American group the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality, wanted to run the ads to counter Stonewall’s national “Some People are Gay. Get over it! ” campaign. TfL refused on the grounds that the ad could cause grave offense. An appeals court, while saying that TfL’s refusal was “unfair,” deemed it lawful. The case is still ongoing, and an appeal is set for the 9th or 10th of December.
What this serves to demonstrate is that the ex-gay message is actively being used by religious conservatives, apparently as part of a wider effort to chip away at the UK’s strict equality laws.
Any attempt to write a ban on ex-gay therapy into statute will likely then have to confront this issue head-on. There may, however, be reason to be cautious on that front, simply because ex-gay therapy supporters appear to be itching for a legal fight and the prospect of having ex-gay therapy upheld by the court system.
As such, ensuring that the legislation is as secure as possible without appearing to or actually infringing on civil or religious liberties will be vital, as will showcasing the multitude of harms that have been reported as a result of both minors and vulnerable adults being subjected to ex-gay therapy.
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