Unethical, ineffective & harmful
London – 16 September 2022
By Declan Henry
Embedded Hatred and Prejudice
Peter Tatchell, the Gay and Human Rights Campaigner, has said there can be no rest until every LGBT+ person in the world is free from discrimination and bigotry. Homosexuality is still criminalised in 71 countries (35 are majority Muslim, 31 majority Christian, and the remaining 5 have a non-religious majority). Ten Muslim countries currently prescribe the death penalty for homosexuality based on sharia law. There are also abuse stories from across Eastern Europe where there is often a strong LGBT+ prejudice and hatred. Much of this relies on the notion that LGBT+ people are ‘sick’ and need to be treated. Even in some Western countries, there is a surprising level of ignorance and hatred towards LGBT+ people. Take Cyprus, for example, where priests have allegedly forced children and adults into conversion therapy treatments to make people straight or to encourage them to accept their birth-assigned gender. Priests have also performed exorcisms to rid people of their same-sex attractions and pressured gay people into marrying heterosexual partners (ordering them to use Viagra to ensure high sex drives within these marriages). Some parents have forced their children to see a psychiatrist in a quest to reverse sexual orientation or stop a child from wanting to transition to another gender.
In simplistic terms, Gay Conversion Therapy (GCT) is a religious practice that holds the belief that a person can stop having same-sex attraction by refraining from practising their sexuality. This is coupled with intense prayer and Bible study to reinforce the willpower to remain compliant and fully realise that homosexuality is wrong and goes against the laws of God and nature. GCT is initially administered through makeshift pseudo-science talking therapy to convince anybody struggling with their sexual orientation or gender identity that there are choices available that will free them of their emotional suffering. This approach appeals to those who already have a perceived incompatibility between their religious values and their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The Ozanne Foundation, UK, published the Cooper Report in 2021 entitled ‘Recommendations on Effectively Legislating for a Ban on Conversion Practices’ by the Ban ‘Conversion Therapy’ Legal Forum, which determined that GCT is more aptly described as ‘conversion practices’. These practices attempt to suppress, ‘cure’, or change sexual orientation or gender identity. A non-exhaustive list of such practices includes exorcisms, pseudo-scientific counselling sessions, corrective rape, deprivation of liberty, being threatened with abduction or torture, abduction attempts, forced marriage, being threatened with forced marriage, being prayed over as a form of ‘healing’, and other physical or verbal abuse. There is also increasing evidence that many individuals are forcibly taken abroad to undergo extreme forms of conversion practices, which I shall refer to later in this article. Up to seven per cent of LGBT+ people, it is estimated, undergo or are offered conversion practice at some point in their lives.
The Cooper Report states that within a medical context, the World Medical Association has judged conversion practices to be incompatible with the ethics of medical care because they are not overseen by accredited and recognised experts who can mitigate the harm theoretically being consented to. The delivery of GCT does not insist on informed consent, and therefore those who are exposed to such practices rarely research the consequences. They are often vulnerable or mentally unstable, and have not been informed beforehand about what they are being subjected to (which includes the possibility of severe psychological harm and oppression). Many opponents of GCT see this as a form of spiritual abuse and religious grooming to evangelical-style doctrines.
Core Issues Trust
The Core Issues Trust, based in Belfast, is a non-profit Christian ministry supporting men and women with same-sex attraction issues who voluntarily seek to change their sexual preference and expression. They offer counselling support to those who contact them, although they insist they operate according to standard therapeutic and counselling approaches and do not engage in coercion. However, the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland has been urged to review the charitable status of the Core Issues Trust because its campaigners promote conversion therapy and have advised the UK Government on its opinions of sexuality and gender identity. The modus operandi of the Core Issues Trust involves using techniques from other fundamentalist anti-gay organisations (including the defunct US Exodus International) and states that if a person truly believes, prays hard, and works on their faith, they can be relieved of their homosexual desires.
For many LGBT+ people, their first encounter with homophobia happens in religious spaces and involves religious people. The Core Issues Trust is no different because of its fundamentalist beliefs. It considers the gay community wrong in believing that LGBT+ people are born gay or that a transgender person was assigned the wrong gender at birth. The Core Issues Trust believes that sexuality is fluid and alterable and that gender is fixed and unalterable. They start with the principle that same-sex activity is an addiction that can be controlled with behavioural techniques, Bible study, and prayer. They capitalise on the references in the Bible which ‘condemn’ homosexuality – Leviticus (18:22 and 20:13), Corinthians (6:9 and 6:9-10), and Romans (1:26 and 1:26-28). They state that gender is in accordance with biological sex and that ‘real’ women in God’s eyes are those with a womb and who can accept an egg for a baby, and that a ‘real’ man is somebody who produces sperm to fertilise the egg. Cross-dressing is viewed as idolatry, and they refute being homophobic or transphobic because their comments are from the holy scriptures. They do not consider themselves therapists but state they provide ‘taking therapy’ as opposed to any other practice. Ultimately, they view God as the best counsellor, psychiatrist, and psychologist.
The Core Issues Trust does not believe it is forcing people to go in a direction. They feel this has already been done by psychologists and psychiatrists who offer little choice to clients in case they are seen as trying to repress somebody’s sexuality or gender identity. They refer to the implementation of the UK Memorandum of Understanding in 2014, which officially made counsellors and therapists duty-bound to only offer gay-affirming therapies to patients coming to them for help.
Pseudo-science that already exists in conventional psychology is expanded upon in theories put forward by the Core Issues Trust. Some psychologists believe sexuality is on a continuum in the sense that no person is exclusively 100 per cent homosexual or 100 per cent heterosexual, but the pendulum on the continuum determining a person’s sexuality stops on or before adolescence. For example, the pendulum might stop at 79 per cent in favour of the person being heterosexual or vice versa. However, the Core Issues Trust has developed its own version of this pseudo-science, believing that some people experience mixed sexual attraction at some point in their lives but that the majority of people are heterosexual. They do not believe in the pendulum stopping at a certain age and deciding on a person’s sexuality. To them, sexuality is fluid, and given that very few people are exclusively gay, same-sex attractions can be easily addressed and ‘treated’. But for many looking objectively at this, it feels like a quest to reduce and extinguish LGBT+ people as much as possible, rather than accepting that there have always been gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people and that it is fine to be any of these without the need to change anything.
The Core Issues Trust believes a person can replace same-sex desires with emotional nourishment because this is not achievable through sexual encounters. They state that many people come to them because they find gay and transgender experiences unsatisfying. In contrast, others think that sexual abuse and trauma have resulted in them taking on LGBT+ identities. The Core Issues Trust states that people who seek GCT will have been in casual, brief, furtive relationships and feel unfulfilled. They don’t feel comfortable about their sexuality and many are in the closet. Others don’t like using the descriptive word ‘gay’, preferring to say they have homosexual attractions or feelings towards someone.
Given that conventional psychologists and therapists only offer gay-affirming therapies, the Core Issues Trust has adopted a change-allowing therapy and counselling practice – SAFE-T (Sexual Attraction Fluidity Exploration in Therapy) – to support those wanting to move away from homosexual feelings, behaviours, and attractions. This form of conversion therapy, they state, is a new concept and there are no longitudinal studies to indicate it is an unsafe practice. It directs clients to accept that homosexual feelings or gender confusions are changeable.
The Core Issues Trust firmly believe there are enough people who feel disillusioned by their sexuality or are having second thoughts about changing their gender for them to offer a service. They state that mainstream society seems to be against giving credibility to those who seek change. They mention the 2017 survey carried out by the Office of National Statistics entitled ‘Sexual Orientation in the UK’, which failed to ask people if they had been gay or transgender but no longer consider themselves to be LGBT+ because the belief is rooted in society that nobody changes and, for them, this is totally untrue. Therefore, they consider that with this singular point of view, there can be no diversity, no true criticality, because it is banning a point of view that is real and valuable for many people.
I love gay people. They rank as the most creative, intelligent, and sensitive of people. God loves them far more than they are aware. But for me, sex with a man felt unnatural. I never felt two men were able to complement one another. The Bible is very clear about homosexuality. It is an abomination for a man to lie with another man. Hell in the afterlife cannot be ruled out. Jesus didn’t feel the need to speak about it. He didn’t speak about paedophilia either. He spoke to the Jews, who were abundantly aware that homosexuality was a sin.
There is no indoctrination. We help people resolve emotional conflicts and difficulties. We want them to be happy in their lives, for them to get rid of their shame, for discontentment to be gone, for them to smile again and to be free to live their lives. We allow people to leave the LGBT community and live in peace. Here are people who can now pray – who have found peace, who have found Jesus.
GCT outlets offer therapeutic support – age groups can range from 18 to early 50s, but the average age is early 30s to 40s. Some are married but battling internal struggles with same-sex attraction. They are individuals who seek to live their lives in freedom. We offer them informed choice. They are counselled to work through their personal issues before arriving at a comfortable decision, which is mainly to see themselves as viable heterosexuals who are de-shamed of their previous thoughts and fantasies.
Someone can say they are ex-gay or are no longer gay. However, they refrain from saying they are cured of homosexuality because some will still struggle with temptation and fantasies. But they will have to adjust their sails accordingly because fulfilment and nourishment will eventually come to them from their Christian faith, which they will hold dear. Jesus will walk alongside them because He will care for them.
- Mike Davidson, CEO of the Core Issues Trust
X-Out-Loud Event in London
X-Out-Loud is an international project stemming from the Northern Ireland-based Core Issues Trust. It believes all people should have the freedom to choose how to live their lives. The linchpin holding the group’s ideology in place is a fundamentalist Christian belief based on the Bible that homosexuality is a sin and should never be practised.
As part of my research into this essay, I attended an X-Out-Loud seminar in London. This event was a coming together of some of its members from across Europe and America who were willing to share their testimonies about how they no longer had same-sex attractions or gender confusion after being helped by Jesus and the Holy Spirit to overcome these desires. Twelve men and women told a packed room how, before they arrived at the current point in their lives, they felt lonely, isolated, confused, rejected, shameful, guilty, and unworthy. Basically, they all exhibited traits commonly associated with internalised homophobia and anti-LGBT+ rhetoric, although none were willing to describe their thoughts or viewpoints in such a manner. Instead, they believed they were a new voice crying out to tell their stories about how people can leave LGBT+ lifestyles. They deny being brainwashed into fundamentalist Christianity that is deeply homophobic, and being part of a group that verges on being a ‘cult’ all but in name. They state they only want to exist publicly and deny trying to stop or eradicate LGBT+ groups who oppose their views.
From an outside perspective, it was easy to see they are a friendship group who have found solidarity and camaraderie amongst each other. There was an intensity present in the gathering whereby they went into a state of euphoria during music and song. All of them firmly belong to a fundamentalist Christian mindset where they believe nothing is impossible for those who believe in Jesus and readily believe that God accepts them and is firmly on their side. But there is also a superior attitude – members of X-Out-Loud believe that other Christians, including LGBT+ Christians, do not read or understand the Bible the way they do because all others read it through Satan’s eyes.
Profiling X-Out-Loud Members
After listening to the various testimonies, it was clear the participants like to reflect upon what they think ‘caused’ them to be gay or transgender. It was also questionable if there was an element of narcissism involved because of the reaction of the other fundamentalist Christians. They listened enthusiastically to their stories of ‘redemption’ from the aspects of life they loathe the most (i.e., anything associated with being LGBT+).
Some of the X-Out-Loud members referred to themselves as being sensitive children who weren’t into playing sports. Others talked about how they were referred to as looking too effeminate or butch, with one person adding that this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, just like, ‘If someone tells you repeatedly that you are stupid, you will end up believing it’. Another asked the rhetorical question, ‘If I had not been sexually molested as a child, would I still be gay?’ Others mentioned an introduction to porn from an early age and feeling robbed of their innocence. Some considered their self-rejection was because of unmet needs resulting in the use of pornography to ‘medicate’ their pain. Mentions of belonging to dysfunctional families, including abusive mothers and absent fathers, had left them feeling ‘broken’. Mental illness, including depression, suicidal ideation, loneliness, and anxiety was commonly featured in the testimonies. Other factors blamed were being fed up with being gay or the gay scene itself.
Some believed that a generational curse in their family lineage needed to be cured because same-sex attraction or transgenderism are passed on when they have not been cleansed. But after the heart is cleansed, this trauma is no longer passed on. For others, same-sex attraction was seen as a failure whereby they had turned against themselves and intensified their craving for peace and acceptance. Their desire to be loved and belong was found in Jesus and, although some still struggled with same-sex attraction, they were adamant they would never again accept being gay or transgender as an identity. Listening to the various theories as to why participants considered themselves gay or transgender sounded like they thought heterosexual people were devoid of similar issues or belonged to a utopian world that didn’t permit LGBT+ people.
Matthew said he discovered from reading the Bible that homosexuality is ‘not mainly about a feeling, it’s about the practice’. So, technically, any man who is no longer having sex with men but still has sexual feelings towards men should not be referred to as a homosexual. Surrendering to God forms part of the miracle. In doing so, God eradicates their past – even if a homosexual had slept with 600 men. Satan will not have power over you any longer. You are washed clean – sanctified by the love of Christ. It becomes your passport to freedom.
Afterwards, you do not care how you look or what others think of you. It does not matter if you do not look man enough – or woman enough – what matters is what you look like to God. You are sanctified, and this is followed by perfection. But before you become sanctified, you must go through the trials. The temptations will still be there for a while, but they will get easier until they completely fade away. When you come to live in Jesus, it lessens/stops unwanted same-sex attractions (because having such thoughts is also an abomination, as is the practice). It is not living God’s way. To be free from this feeling is the best in life. Previously, Matthew says he was full of emotional angst towards himself and completely closed off from life, even though he had been in a committed same-sex relationship for a year. ‘Now, there is more room in my heart for other people. Now I feel true peace and am totally fulfilled.’
Liam has the perfect picture in his mind of a wife and children. He feels no longer rejected by society. Before, he found it hard to relate to males because masculinity to him meant sport, alcohol, and sex – and none of these things interested him. As a result, the last thing he wanted was to grow up like these men but instead wanted to be loved and affirmed for who he was as a person. He remembered watching a porn film one day and envying the way the main actor looked at his mate with such desire. Instead, he was feeling depressed and suicidal and was planning to kill himself by jumping out of a window before turning to Matthew (an X-Out-Loud member he discovered on YouTube), who showed him a different pathway. In X-Out-Loud he found happiness in Jesus, who he regarded as the man he needed and the man he always wanted to be. But above all, Liam firmly believes that any person who opposes GCT is wrong, and those who do might as well have come and pushed him out of the window on the day he felt at his lowest ebb. He also believes that anything can happen when a person gives their life to Jesus.
The Trans Narrative
Transphobia exists as much as homophobia. The Core Issues Trust, X-Out-Loud, and other suchlike groups believe that gender is unalterable. They firmly believe that nobody is wrongly assigned gender at birth, and any gender confusion can be healed through SAFE-T counselling, prayer, and Bible study.
I spoke to a psychiatric nurse who is an X-Out-Loud supporter. He was connected to Christian Concern, who help sponsor Core Issues Trust events. James told me he previously worked as a psychiatric nurse in an accident and emergency department close to the Gender Identity Clinic in Charing Cross, London. For the two years he worked there, he estimated that at least 20 per cent of the A&E patients were transgender people who presented as suicidal, depressed, angry, and frustrated, and showed signs of emotionally unstable personality disorders. These were mainly, but not exclusively, trans women, with several having undergone gender reassignment surgery. Many had become too overwhelmed by their decision to transition and regretted having surgery. James said little could be done to alleviate the pain and suffering of those who had undergone full surgery and now deeply regretted their decision, other than offering them anti-depressants.
James said he had spent time exploring the reasons with the patients as to why they decided to transition:
There are always triggers that might have made them come to that conclusion. Bullying at school, always felt different to others, not into sports, more artistic. Some felt they were like tomboys and not female enough or too effeminate and resembling a woman. This planted an idea in their head – they could have a better life if they changed gender. It would give them peace of mind and win acceptance from others. A prominent feature was that most had encountered pornography from an early age, giving them a distorted view of gender, sex and themselves. Another common feature in most of them was they were brought up in religious families – mainly Catholic. Most were in their twenties, and a few older ones were in their forties.
James feels a crazy trend is currently erupting in young people wanting to change gender or identify as non-binary because he believes young minds are very malleable. It’s about catching the problem early because many of these young people are very sensitive. They need to be told that it is okay to be different to others and not feel the need to change their gender to conform to what others think or believe about them. James said he would like more education/training to be delivered in schools so that young people considering transitioning are told about the consequences of gender resignment surgery, which he considered was from a natural to an unnatural form. He felt this would prevent people from ending up like the trans people he met in the A&E department.
Although James was well-meaning in sharing his views and personal work experiences, it needs to be highlighted that evidence shows very few people regret treatment of their gender dysphoria. The World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) issued statistics in 2021, which concluded that 87 per cent in male-to-female patients and 97 per cent in female-to-male patients expressed satisfaction in their transition process. While there have been huge media outpourings about young trans people and the prescribing of puberty blockers, it was determined by the Court of Appeal in 2021 that children under 16 with gender dysphoria can continue to be given life-changing drugs with their GP’s consent. This allows children to take puberty blockers without their parents’ consent as long as their doctor agrees. It is important to note that multiple requirements need to be met before the NHS can offer hormonal treatment to children. In 2022, Princeton University published the results of a longitudinal study looking at trans children over a five-year period. It concluded that transgender children are unlikely to detransition or come to identify with their birth gender five years after their social transition.
Numerous fundamentalist Christians form part of evangelical churches scattered across the UK. They support the work of organisations like the Core Issues Trust, Christian Concern, Evangelical Alliance, and Affinity (Gospel Churches in Partnership), to name but a few. But there are also independent churches. During my research, I interviewed Derek, who set up his own evangelical church in the South Western part of the UK after becoming a born-again Christian and turning his back on being gay. His mindset is almost identical to members of X-Out-Loud – homosexuality is a sin, the Bible is correct in everything it says, and homosexuality is something that can be discarded once the person stops practising it.
I haven’t had sex with a man for the past eight years. I was very promiscuous before that and must have slept with over 1,000 men, but I didn’t like anal sex as I never saw it as a natural thing. It makes sense that a penis and a vagina fit so naturally together.
The gay lifestyle was ruining me as a person by creating an inner loneliness that made me more and more detached from love. I couldn’t cope with it any longer, even before realising that the sex was only ever a temporary fix and masking an inner pain – an inner shame.
I gave my life to God. I surrendered completely to God or was ‘re-born’, as Jesus puts it. I let go completely. I let God work through me. It didn’t happen overnight, and I admit I had to wrestle with big questions. But, after reading the Bible and becoming truly aware of the sin I was committing, I became a new creation of myself. I became God-loving. Jesus had entered my life. I was no longer feeling the emptiness of love in my heart. I was no longer walking with lust. I no longer had a deep sense of inner shame. I was healed. Jesus made me realise that homosexuality is not a natural design. You just have to look at people who have anal cancer – or HIV or AIDS – to realise that ‘the wages of sin is death’ (Romans 6:23).
My homosexuality was rooted in certain abuse as a child. My father was emotionally distant. I held on a deep inner longing for older role models – for a father figure – and many men I slept with were far older than myself. My GCT therapist consulted with me by telephone for over two years. The service was free. The counsellor was previously a homosexual before he repented, but was now married with children. Although we got on well – and I learned a lot from him about life, God, and the Bible – I didn’t like his style of asking me to write down my feelings. My greatest criticism of GCT was that it constantly analyses the person’s past and present, and relates it to their childhood. My therapist was particularly keen to know if I had any lustful temptations between sessions and what emotions were triggered by them. My counsellor equated lust with sin and believed that if I could find the root cause of these emotions and feelings, I would no longer be craving to be ‘soothed’ by sleeping around with men.
I am 100 per cent confident that I won’t return to my old lifestyle because I was so unhappy. Some people soothe themselves with drugs and alcohol. I soothed myself with sex. I don’t need to do that any longer. I would cut myself off from any person if I felt it was becoming unhealthy. I know also that God would intervene and prevent it from going any further. I admit I still have temptation from time to time, but I pray. Jesus knows what it feels like to be tempted and, when I pray, he listens and answers. I don’t want to live my life apart from God. I have very few gay friends these days except for one who stays in touch and occasionally rings to ask how I am. I haven’t wilfully cut myself off from the LGBT community, but I have nothing in common with them now.
There are false believers out there who claim to be Christians and are still practising homosexuals. They are workers of sin. They live their lives apart from God. Unless they can remove themselves from that lifestyle and repent, they cannot be saved. I want to live a life that is led by God, and if he wants me to have a wife and children, I will obey.
Most GCT practices in the UK amount to talking therapies and/or persuasion to praying and Bible study, as illustrated by X-Out-Loud members. Other practices mentioned in the Cooper Report relate, although not exclusively, to African culture. Some of these practices take place in the UK, but many African LGBT+ who are open about their sexuality or get ‘outed’ are encouraged or forced to return to their family homelands – e.g., Nigeria – for ‘treatment’ of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
I spoke to the Reverend Jide Macauley, an openly gay Nigerian pastor living in London and the founding pastor of the House of Rainbow, which encourages LGBT+ Christian people of colour to seek his views on conversion practices. He started with a quote from the Late Bishop Desmond Tutu – When we oppress others, we end up oppressing ourselves – when referring to the antiquated views some Nigerians still hold about homosexuality and failing to realise that almost every family has an LGBT+ member in it.
Homosexuality is still illegal in African countries and this law is embedded in the mindset of African people living in the UK – who encourage homophobia as part of their culture, making the lives of LGBT+ Nigerians a daily struggle. Many still feel unable to come out, with nine in ten Nigerians viewing homosexuality as something society should not accept. In Nigeria, LGBT+ people are often subjected to violence and imprisoned, and, in more extreme cases, gay people are sentenced to death by stoning under Islamic Sharia Courts. Reverend Macauley stated that for Christians living in Nigeria, views of homosexuality were formed through missionary teachings and colonial laws that remain in place to the present day. New anti-gay legislation was introduced in the Same-Sex Prohibition Act 2006 to ensure it remained criminalised and to prevent same-sex marriage. Trans people are not seen as a problem because very few come out – mainly because there are no medical facilities in the country. Africa has a culture of cross-dressing, with both men and women wearing traditional flamboyant coloured clothing, which for many trans people is an outlet to appease their gender dysphoria.
According to Reverend Macauley, there is a failure in the UK Pentecostal movement to understand sexuality in general. Besides LGBT+ issues, they are otherwise ‘hung up’ around issues of polygamy and polyandry and bend backwards to misinterpret the Bible so it can align with what suits them. He added to this by asking if they follow the Bible’s teachings that Black people should be slaves to white people or women should be subservient to men? In the UK, Nigerians (conservative) have made it quite clear they do not adhere to the progressive culture and some of its laws – they live as if they were still back home. Therefore, they don’t respect LGBT laws because they don’t feel the laws apply to them. They view being gay or lesbian as a disease – a disability – and a curse that renders curing. Therefore, when someone is confirmed as, or suspected of being gay they are subjected to one or more of the following:
- The laying of hands either by one person or several to rid the ‘afflicted’ person of the demonic spirit of homosexuality through intense prayer.
- The person may be asked to confess to the congregation and ask for resentencing and forgiveness.
- Exorcisms while the pastor repeatedly shouts ‘kill it with fire’ or ‘die in the fire’.
- Hypnosis and food deprivation may also be used in the hope of a cure.
- People may be sent for pastoral counselling, including Bible study. (The hypocrisy is that over 60% of pastors are estimated to be gay themselves.)
- Physical abuse with permission from parents or even the person themselves – unlikely to occur in the UK so they are sent back to Africa – which entails beating the ‘homosexual’ out of the person.
- People are sent to Nigeria for ‘correction rape’ and/or for electric shock therapy to attempt to cure the person of their homosexuality.
Reverend Macauley believes there is a challenge for the LGBT+ community to become better prepared and protected from attack from Evangelical Christians. He feels there should be better space available to help LGBT+ people overcome abuse caused by religious behaviour. Those who antagonise and attack LGBT+ communities are well-organised and well-funded. They come from a position of power and can fund church missions in the UK to reinforce anti-LGBT+ rhetoric. These include evangelical movements that provide funding from America and Russia, as well as Pentecostal movements for Black ministries.
Quackery and Psychiatry
In the late 1800s, neurologist Graeme E. Hammond believed that homosexuality was a neurological disorder rooted in nervous exhaustion. He suggested that bicycling exercise would restore health and heterosexuality. Psychiatry, too, has played its hand over the last century in seeking to change the sexual orientation of gays and lesbians before finally declassifying it as a ‘mental disorder’ in 1990. Such attempts made by professionals started in 1869 when the German psychiatrist Carl Friedrich Otto Westphal suggested that gay people had a mental disorder. This theory spread across the world and took root. Cruel and barbaric experiments followed, mainly on women in asylums who were subjected to oophorectomy – the removal of their ovaries. Others underwent cauterisation of the clitoris, which meant it was partly burned away in the hope of quenching libido and offsetting same-sex attraction. It was a catastrophic failure, as were future experiments on gay men, which included extracting the hormones from the testicles of animals and then injecting them into the men in the hope of reversing their sexuality.
Another foolish idea was transplanting a testicle from a heterosexual man into a gay man to determine if this would turn them into heterosexuals. This procedure was carried out in countries like Russia until the 1920s. In the decades that followed, the development of synthetic hormones became popular. These treatments were basically chemical castrations in the hope that impotence would stop cravings for same-sex attractions. If this treatment wasn’t cruel enough, scientists started experimenting with carrying out lobotomies in the 1940s on gay and lesbian people to seek a result in reducing same-sex attractions, but this only resulted in permanent brain damage.
The 1960s and 1970s saw aversion therapy widely used on LGBT+ people to deter them from acting on their desires. Some people were exposed to erotic images of their own sex and, when aroused, were given vomit-inducing drugs and left in a room for a few days without a toilet. The rationale was that images of the physical discomfort would become so embedded in the person’s mind that they would always associate this with homosexual desire and be fearful thereon in from practising. Electric shock therapy was another ludicrously barbaric ‘therapy’. Electrodes were placed on the testicles of gay men who were then forced to watch gay pornographic images to determine whether it would subsequently produce an adverse, fearful reaction when faced further with same-sex attractions or male nudity.
The American Psychiatrist Robert Galbraith Heath began deep brain stimulation experiments in the 1950s. He first experimented on a gay ‘patient’ who was arrested for the possession of marijuana. Electrodes were implanted into the brain’s septal region (the part associated with feelings of pleasure) and switched on when the man was shown heterosexual pornographic material. Afterwards, he was forced to sleep with a prostitute who was recruited for the experiment. Heath deemed his experiment successful by stating that the man was converted to heterosexuality, although no follow-up research was carried out.
The Catholic Church
While evangelical fundamentalists mainly form the linchpin to GCT, Catholicism has cropped up several times during my research, including members of X-Out-Loud who were raised in the religion. This prompted me to look a little closer at the Catholic Church, which led to the discovery of a document published in 1979 by the Church acknowledging that homosexuality was irreversible. While some of the language and concepts are now outdated, the central message remains accurate:
Professional psychiatric treatment or psychological counselling is by no means a proven remedy for the homosexual condition. Very often, it proves to be a frustrating experience that only heightens anxiety. Pastors and counsellors may suggest psychological testing to determine whether a person is exclusively or predominately homosexual, as opposed to a ‘transitional’ homosexual who is passing through a temporary phase of psychological development. In the case of true homosexuals or ‘inverts’, professional therapy may be helpful to assist them in accepting their condition positively, but therapy should never be suggested in a way that raises false expectations of a reverse or modification of the homosexual condition.
- Pastoral Care of Homosexual People (1979)
When I spoke to some gay Catholics I knew, they informed me that the Catholic Church is further softening its stance by admitting that its teaching on homosexuality is wrong. Cardinal Marx of the German Synod has invited reflection on theologies that need updating and is moving things forward in favour of LGBT+ people in the Church’s development of its doctrine teaching. The synod is in favour of not denouncing somebody’s sexuality without looking at the context of the person, who may be in a loving, committed relationship.
Whilst this is all very encouraging news, it would be misleading to suggest that the Catholic Church is progressive over and above any other Christian denomination. It, too, still has plenty of opposition to LGBT+ rights starting with its own clergy, given that over 60 per cent of Catholic priests worldwide are gay, with most battling internalised homophobia to the point they intensely dislike the LGBT+ community. Italy and parts of Eastern Europe, including Poland, have set up anti-LGBT+ groups that advocate for Gay Conversion Therapy. Many of these have been set up under the auspices of local bishops and priests but have had little success. Conservative Catholics, who are evangelical, support the American-based organisations, Courage International and Encourage, which promote celibacy and/or encourage heterosexual marriage in gay and lesbian people through prayer and discussion.
Sexual orientation and gender identity are part and parcel of the individual. Yes, you can seek ways to modify behaviour, but a person can’t change their sexual orientation or gender identity. In trying to do so, the person buries themselves in some kind of pathological pit which prevents their maturity and threatens their sanity. Praying over someone and hoping their homosexuality will be cured is a form of spiritual abuse.
- Martin – gay Catholic
GCT is a lie because sexuality can’t be reversed. Religion leads us to believe we are ‘disordered’ in our nature, which is a lie. Others will think there is evil in LGBT love, and this is a lie too. Humanity has never come to the realisation that we are sexual beings, and therefore life can come to the point where it is lie after lie. You must be very careful with all of these lies because they can kill the soul and dehumanise a person. A person needs to be cautious about what consumes their brain. Religion can be dangerous because it holds power. People often forget that religion is a human construction.
A person can ignore their sexuality or reject it completely by remaining celibate or becoming asexual, but this curtails the person’s integrity, choice, and freedom. It doesn’t allow a person to be grateful for their sexuality and nor are they allowed to follow their sexual orientation, which can lead to them meeting a loving partner. Gay evangelicals who endorse GCT may have experienced sex before their conversion, but they have never been in love. And, therefore, will never have been in a loving relationship.
People who are confused about their sexuality deserve huge compassion, sympathy, and empathy. They are coming from a position of self-hatred. They need to be facilitated to self-acceptance and love of self before they can be truly supported in their choices. But when you ask the question, ‘what do you want to do?’, the answer must be met with respect. People who are thinking of leaving the community must be made to feel that their LGBT family are there for them and not from a binary position of ‘I’m right and you are wrong’, but instead from a place of ‘I am here for you’. The hand of friendship needs to remain at the ready.
- Bernard – gay Catholic Priest
Brazil was the first country to ban GCT in 1999. Since then, various countries have followed suit including: Malta, Germany, France, Canada, Norway, Samoa, Taiwan, Fiji, Ecuador, Argentina, Uruguay, India, and New Zealand, as well as various US states and provinces in Spain and Australia. Governments in Ireland, Israel, Denmark, and Finland are actively considering banning it. GCT is still legal in the UK, although in 2022 the UK Government agreed to impose a partial conversion ban (date to be agreed) only for lesbian, gay, and bisexual people. Transgender conversion therapy will remain legal under this new law. It was thought that the decision behind excluding trans people was the media furore in recent years about the escalation in young people coming out as trans and seeking medical treatments, including puberty blockers. However, other countries that imposed outright bans on GCT practices did not become embroiled in issues of this kind. While conversion practices are unlikely to become popularised anytime soon, the risk remains of the damage it causes to recipients. Therefore, an outright ban will send a direct message to those endorsing it that it is unacceptable and dangerous to all members of the LGBT+ community and not just some.
Peter Tatchell has stated that a ban on conversion therapy that is not trans-inclusive is not a genuine ban at all. Excluding trans people from protection against abusive, harmful conversion practices is shameful. He said it was a callous betrayal that would leave vulnerable trans people at the mercy of ‘exorcisms, beatings, emotional blackmail, and psychological browbeating’.
Currently, there is little help for GCT survivors. Some experts state GCT takes up to a decade to unpick, given that people who thought they were ‘cured’ of same-sex attraction and/or gender identity discover that the thoughts and feelings have not gone away, nor will they ever. This can leave people emotionally and mentally crippled. The Conversion Therapy and Gender Identity Survey 2020 found instances of attempted suicide, suicidal thoughts, eating disorders, anxiety, and depression. PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder) occurred at a higher frequency in gender-diverse participants subjected to gender identity conversion practices, resulting in deep shame, low self-esteem, and internalised self-hatred.
In conclusion, all conversion practices should be banned in the UK without further delay. As outlined in the Cooper Report 2021, conversion practices harm the individual and negatively impact the LGBT+ community by sending messages that these people are abnormal and/or disgusting. This adds to the already pre-existing stigma, violence, and homophobia that people face and maintains its continuance. All conversion practices treat LGBT+ people as less valuable and fail to recognise that all people are of equal moral value irrespective of their sexual orientation or gender identity. As you have seen in the section on psychiatry in this report, GCT will join a long list of other practices that have been tried, tested, and failed over the last century. It is delusional, non-sensical, and a total betrayal of LGBT+ people mainly orchestrated by LGBT+ people. Ultimately, the enemy within our community needs to be defeated before more lives are ruined.
The author would like to make it known that while he believes in the rights of free speech, he does not concur with any of the views expressed in this article which favour gay conversion therapy and/or conversion practices. Declan Henry is firmly against any form of conversion therapy and believes it is an abhorrent practice that should be banned in every country of the world.