Doug Beattie: Westminster must not delay on gay conversion therapy ban - and faith groups must have their fears allayed

UUP leadership favourite Doug Beattie has welcomed a Westminster announcement that it is to launch a consultation on how best to protect LGBT people when it bans gay conversion therapy.

Tuesday, 11th May 2021, 4:40 pm
UUP leadership candidate, Doug Beattie, MLA.

UUP leadership favourite Doug Beattie has welcomed a Westminster announcement that it is to launch a consultation on how best to protect LGBT people when it bans gay conversion therapy.

The Queen’s Speech, setting out the Government’s legislative agenda, stated that measures will be brought forward to ban gay conversion therapy, which can cause mental and physical harm.

In a briefing note from Number 10, accompanying the speech, the Government said it will ensure the action it takes is “proportionate and effective, and does not have unintended consequences”.

It said it will ensure that medical professionals, religious leaders, teachers and parents will be able to continue to have open and honest conversations, Press Association reported.

It will launch a consultation before details of the ban are finalised in order to hear from a wide range of people.

The Government Equalities Office (GEO) said the consultation will seek views to ensure that the ban can address the practice “while protecting the medical profession, defending freedom of speech, and upholding religious freedom”.

As soon as parliamentary time allows, and following the consultation, the ban will be introduced in legislation.

UUP MLA Doug Beattie whose non-binding motion on banning conversion therapy was recently passed comfortably by the Assembly, welcomed the announcement of legislation for the “vile, harmful practice”, adding that LGBTQ citizens across the UK “deserve robust protections from it”.

“However we will of course look to see what comes next,” he said. “The LGBTQ community have been waiting a long time for this legislation and the UK Government have been promising a ban for a long time. It is important that they move quickly to bring forward legislation and do not simply engage in kicking the can down the road. The ban must also be meaningful.

“It is important that those who are concerned about how this will impact on faith have those fears allayed. That does not and should not diminish the right of LGBTQ people to be protected from harmful practices.

“While this issue is devolved, the announcement that the UK Government is moving forward should provide new impetus to the Communities Minister to bring forward legislation to make a ban in Northern Ireland a reality before the end of this Assembly mandate.”

But Mike Davidson, of faith-based NI charity Core Issues Trust, said that any legislation should not enforce unwanted directions on individuals or married men and women.

“The largest group of non-heterosexual persons in any community are those with mixed attractions,” said Mr Davidson, who describes himself as “a former homosexual”.

He added: “Coercing such people to remain homosexual when they choose to be heterosexual and wish to leave former LGB identities will, be inhumane.”

Individuals need to be allowed to make their own decisions on the issue, he said.

“Married men and women wanting to protect their marriage should not be forced by new legislation to engage with gay affirming therapists who cannot accept their choices.”

Mr Davidson wrote to MLAs after feeling that Doug Beattie had criticised his organisation in the assembly debate on the issue.

“Core Issues Trust does not offer conversion therapy,” he said today. “We offer sexual attraction fluidity exploration in therapy and we oppose coercive practises wherever they are found.”

Speaking after the recent assembly debate, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Rev Dr David Bruce said his church opposes coercive approaches and support moves to introduce legislation to outlaw such abuses “which are evidently damaging to people”.

He added: “We also recognise that not everyone struggles with their sexuality, yet for those Christians who do, and ask their minister, or youth leader, to walk alongside them pastorally and prayerfully as they talk about this area of their lives, any future legislation should not criminalise either for fulfilling their pastoral duties responsibly.

“Where protection from coercive interventions and ‘therapies’ is needed, clarity and balance are also required. We welcome the fact that a number of MLAs recognised the important point of principle that freedom of thought, conscience and the practice and observance of religion should also be protected.”

But Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell today expressed great concern that there could be any religious exemptions by government.

He condemned the “further delay, lack of clarity and absence of a timetable for the ban”.

“The government has been promising this ban for nearly three years and still we don’t have it,” he said. “All we’ve had is more than 1,000 days of dithering.

“We don’t yet know the precise details of this ban and there have been reports that it will not apply to religious bodies and practices.”

He added: “We need to see the proposed legislation. It must not allow religious exemptions. Faith bodies are the main proponents. The ban needs to be full and comprehensive and provide statutory support for victims and survivors.”

The charity Stonewall welcomed the commitment but said news of a consultation “is concerning and will be hard for our communities to hear”.

Chief executive Nancy Kelley said: “We don’t need a consultation to know that all practices that seek to convert, suppress, cure or change us are dangerous, abusive and must be banned.

“Lesbian, gay, bi, trans, intersex and ace communities have been waiting almost three years for the UK Government to follow through on their promise to ban all conversion practices, and any delay leaves us at further risk of abuse.”

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said there is no specific timeframe for the consultation but the Government wants it to be “short and prompt”.

Asked about a warning from former LGBTQ adviser to the Government Jayne Ozanne, who warned it “risks creating a highly dangerous loophole if it chooses to focus purely on ‘coercive’ practices”, the Downing Street spokesman said: “I disagree. We want to work with key stakeholders to inform proposals so we can put an end to this practice.”

The Government has also commissioned research into the scope of practices and experiences of those subjected to conversion therapy.

New funding will go towards a victim support package to ensure that victims can access the support they need.

The GEO said it will be the first time the UK Government has offered such support.

Organisations will be invited to bid to develop such a package, with the Government anticipating that support will be in place by the summer.

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