Leading LGBTQ+ organisations, LGBT Ireland and The Rainbow Project, are joining in a cross-border partnership for an all-island conversion therapy ban. The partnership urges policymakers to implement an all-island ban on the dangerous and shameful practice of conversion therapy.
The Community Foundation funded anti conversion therapy campaign is aiming to develop a “shared legal policy position which can be included in legislation in both jurisdictions” and will be accompanied by awareness-raising initiatives to ban the practice outright.
What is conversion therapy?
Conversion therapy is the widely discredited, and often cruel torture, that many LGBTQ+ people have suffered through in an attempt to ‘cure’ their identity.
‘Curbing deception – A world survey of legal restrictions of so-called ‘conversion therapies’ 2020 report by ILGA World, shows that only four countries Brazil, Ecuador, Germany and Malta, ban the practice; other countries, like the US, Canada, Australia, Mexico and Spain, have regional laws preventing the practice in some parts of the country.
ILGA’s report notes that throughout the 20th-century so-called conversion therapy has seen people undergo “brutal and inhumane techniques” to change their sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.
As the UK are accused of ‘dragging its feet’ by the Ban Conversion Therapy campaign (a coalition of LGBTQ+ groups including Stonewall, Mermaids and Galop) as a promised ban by the Prime Minister is yet to be kept, Ireland now looks set to lead the way in the British Isles in banning conversion therapy cross country.
It is no secret that LGBTQ+ rights in Northern Ireland have been traditionally slower to advance than the rest of the United Kingdom. The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has voted against, or vetoed, almost every single pro-LGBTQ+ issue in the Northern Ireland Assembly, at Westminster or at local government level. From the equalisation of the age of consent for gay sex to its unyielding fight to block marriage equality.
However, change is on the horizon.
Earlier this year, The Northern Ireland Assembly voted to ban conversion therapy with overwhelming support in, what the LGBTQ+ community describe as, a symbolic Stormont vote. John O’Doherty, CEO of the Rainbow Project, told us, “The motion received overwhelming support from the Northern Ireland Assembly with all but two political parties wholly supporting a ban on conversion therapy in all its forms. This was a positive start and a good indication to getting legislation passed.”
In Northern Ireland conversion therapy falls across three different departments – justice, health and communities, whose ministers are all on board of bringing forward a ban. It has been tasked to the Minister of Communities, Deirdre Hargey. The ban conversion therapy consortium has had several meetings with the minister on what the ban should look like and the process which will be undertook to bring forward legislation to ban conversion therapy in Northern Ireland.
Part of the work the department will be doing is researching the collective experiences of those members of the LGBTQ+ community affected by conversion therapy accompanied by a public consultation on what the ban should include.
O’Doherty goes on to explain, “Unlike equal marriage, which was a battle a day, over many years, there isn’t the capacity for one political party to use a veto to block legislation bringing forward a ban on conversion therapy. We are working with the minister, with support across the chamber and have a timeline and a set plan agreed on how we will continue to progress and move forward collectively.”
Like the North, the ban on conversion therapy has strong political backing, with LGBT Ireland working closely with the Minister of Children, Roderic O’Gorman. The focus of their research on conversion therapy is what is currently being practised, how it is happening, its affects but also how and who are signing up to it. This will determine the approach of the campaign and how best to move forward in an informed and targeted manner.
It will also provide that much needed evidence in the hope to accelerate the bringing forward of legislation as although the ban has received over-whelming support, Paula Fagan, CEO of LGBT Ireland has commented, “there is a lack of urgency, as with everything else that is currently going on, it is not deemed a priority.”
However, the legalisation of same sex marriage in the South was passed five years prior to the North so Fagan is confident that this partnership will be just the boost needed to put it in the forefront of political agendas.
Fagan continues, “one of the key aspects of the process for LGBT Ireland will be to reach out and reignite those partnerships and relationships which include religious organisations and faith and community leaders which were pivotal to the passing of same sex marriage. As research concludes over 50% of conversion therapy is undertaken by faith-based groups so to get momentum they need to get on board. We are looking forward to bringing those people together, once again, to achieve further rights for the LGBTQ+ community of Ireland”
The partnership, hopes and ambitions.
Both LGBT Ireland and The Rainbow Project are confident that this will be the start of a long-term partnership. They believe this to be only the beginning, as Fagan stated, “We look forward to working together with The Rainbow Project in Belfast. Together we will share our experiences, research, and knowledge. It is our hope that we will deepen the knowledge required amongst lawmakers to bring about much-needed change.”
With O’Doherty going on to say, “We live on an island. We don’t want it to be a transport issue – legal on one side and not the other. Only work on a pan Ireland basis will resolve this. Conversion therapy is wrong and causes harm no matter how or where it is delivered.”
What’s next? Well, both Fagan and O’Doherty agree that this is only the start. Both organisations have ambitious agendas as O’Doherty states, ‘Trans health care in Ireland is a huge priority, as well as education reform and sport, so the extent of collaboration is endless.”
A united Ireland has long been debated between opposing political parties on both sides of the border, but now, the LGBTQ+ community will bring it together, proving once again, that when it comes to equality and our equal rights, we stand taller united, and as transformative change is in grasp the community of Ireland can begin to live in the island they imagine.
Ban on conversion therapy in Britain outlined in Queen’s Speech.