You Need to Wake Up and Stop Gay Conversion Quackery, UK Government

UK Health Minister Norman Lamb says he’s getting tough on gay conversion therapy. I’m not convinced.

This month, he chaired a roundtable meeting with the Royal College of Psychiatrists and leading UK gay rights group Stonewall, among others, to discuss mounting concerns that there may be clinicians working within the National Health Service who are referring people for so-called sexual orientation change efforts or, as it is more commonly known, gay conversion therapy or ex-gay therapy.

The practice has no medical support, is condemned by all mainstream medical and psychological bodies as well as the leading Christian counseling body in the UK, and there is growing evidence of the psychological harms that can occur as a result of LGBT people being exposed to this kind of quackery.

Despite this, a 2009 survey of 1,300 mental health professionals found that in an excess of 200 cases, professionals had attempted to reduce a patient’s same-sex attraction. There are some very limited circumstances in which this might be clinically appropriate (if a person is incapable of reconciling their LGB identity and so wishes to reduce those feelings and live a celibate life, clinicians may be inclined to offer a means toward such a therapeutic goal if all other courses have failed), however the prevalence was still quite shocking. It is believed that around 40 percent of those patients had been exposed to this therapy within the NHS — meaning with public money.

Lamb, while noting that such referrals have been relatively few and far between, has written to the NHS overseer for England to emphasize that no NHS money should be spent in this way. However, he has categorically ruled out a legislative ban on conversion therapy, telling the Guardian:

“There will be people who want help with coming to terms with their sexuality and need to be able to seek support from a professional,” he said. It was important to avoid a situation where a doctor or therapist felt they could not counsel someone in that situation. “We must not end up with a situation where we end up with people fearing they will be prosecuted.”

This is in response to legislation that currently sits in England’s House of Commons that would ban sexual orientation change efforts and would enable the NHS to take disciplinary action against those offering ex-gay therapy.

Traditionally, the government tends to defer to counselling services and, on matters like this, allow them to self-regulate. Gay conversion therapy should not be one of those areas.

There is a strong urge among some religiously-affiliated counselling groups to support conversion therapy as a matter of religious freedom and the rights of a patient to seek this so-called treatment. This is incorrect on both counts: there’s no religious right to dole out harmful religiously motivated discrimination disguised as treatment, and the clinician’s responsibility is not to give an ill-informed patient a quack therapy but to help facilitate what is in the patient’s best interests and how their health can be improved. A discredited and potentially dangerous non-treatment isn’t something we should worry about banning, then.

Despite this, and possibly because of the religious rights smokescreen, the British Government has so far refused to back the legislation despite having recognized that ex-gay therapy can be harmful and should not be practiced.

It appears that Lamb is sending a mixed signal here, one indicative of the government’s own confused position. He recognizes, as does the government, that ex-gay therapy is both wrong and medically unsound yet at the same time seems to suggest that in order to allow people to seek treatment to help ease their anxiety or mental health problems surrounding issues of sexual orientation, conversion therapy cannot be regulated against. There’s a gap in that logic a kilometer wide.

Attempting to change someone’s sexual orientation is in no way the same as the recognized and responsible treatment of working with someone in distress so that they can come to terms with their sexual orientation and so that they can reject whatever stigma, be it secular or religious, that has made them feel that their sexual orientation is bad, wrong, or damaging.

We would not hesitate to ban other so-called counselling methods that we know have pushed people to suicide, and yet for gay conversion attempts the UK government appears to want to step so lightly that its influence will barely be felt at all. That’s not only cowardly, it’s dangerous.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.


Janice Thompson
Janice Thompson3 years ago


Cristina Fisher
Cristina Fisher3 years ago

The only therapy SOME LGBT MIGHT need is advise on dealing with the *stupid homophobes.
* OK they're not stupid they're just ([fill in the blank] if I did it, the comment would be innapropriette).

Danuta Watola
Danuta W3 years ago

Thanks for sharing!

Martha Ferris
Martha Ferris3 years ago

People who seek counseling for whatever reason need to be informed consumers. If the person you have selected is not right for you don't see that person.
There is no reason to have to see a conversion therapist while we wait for this kind of "counseling" to become illegal. For kids we should push to have this declared as child abuse.

Dale O.

This so-called conversion is out and out prejudice and is totally unfounded. It is quackery and should never be funded.

Janis K.
Janis K3 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

pam w.
pam w3 years ago

Barbara L..."As for the religious fanatics -- you cannot reason with irrational, unreasonable people.:

And that is because religion is NOT based on reason--it's based on ''faith'' and ''faith'' only. People become irrational and unreasonable when their ''faith'' is questioned. They feel insecure and take it out on the rest of us.

Tamara Burks
Tamara Burks3 years ago

Tim W, Karen H Tell your mothers they are awesome. and your brother is funny , Karen.

Karen H.
Karen H3 years ago

No, Tamara B, I actually wasn’t making a ridiculous no one could ever think to discriminate in a million years comparison with left-handedness. My mother learned to be ambidextrous when her public school teachers forced her to use her right hand. My brother was also left-handed and she made sure his teachers didn’t even try to change that—though in one school photo they had him sitting at a desk with a crayon in his right hand.
Right handed people use the left (logical) side of their brain. Left handed people use the right (artistic) side of their brain. My brother often told our parents that he was the only one of their children who was in his right mind.