Sexual orientation change efforts
3 min

UK: Parliament makes room for ‘gay cure’ debates

BY NATASHA BARSOTTI — A UK parliamentary committee room was the scene of a recent debate about the merits of offering gay conversion therapy to people who say they're experiencing unwanted feelings of same-sex attraction.

Organized by Christian Concern and Core Issues Trust, the event was promoted as a debate about the "legitimacy and freedom to offer sexual reorientation when many professional bodies are bannning such therapies." It precedes an inquiry into the professional conduct of Dr Mike Davidson, a therapist who "advocates for those who say they have unwanted feelings of same-sex attraction," Pink News reports. Davidson took part in the debate that featured gay rights activist Peter Tatchell; Dr Michael King, director of the Mental Health Sciences Unit at University College London; and Dr Joseph Berger, a consultant psychiatrist. 

"The idea to me in terms of any group coming and saying that should not be permitted in terms of people wanting to question their same-sex thoughts and desires and behaviours, that is what is unethical, that people would seek to stop that, would seek to ban it, would seek to try to throw such therapists out of their professional bodies, that to me is absolutely horrendous," Berger said during the debate.

"I think that any therapy that's being offered ought to be informed and based on its effectiveness, and I think it's very wrong to propose or offer a therapy which gives people false hope, that gives people the prospect that they can change their sexual orientation when we know from the evidence that there is virtually no possibility for 99.9 percent of people," Tatchell says.

Asked what evidence exists to support the contention that conversion therapy works, Berger claims there's "tons of very good research and very good reports" that such treatment is successful among people who voluntarily come forward and say they are troubled by their same-sex thoughts, fantasies and behaviours. He further claims that "considerable proportions" of such people — "some studies suggest 33 percent, to other studies that come up as high as 79 percent" —  have been helped. Claims that these therapies are harmful are anecdotal, he argues.

"We look at the experience of many people who've been through these reparative therapy techniques, and so many of them have said it didn't work," Tatchell counters. "These therapies are dealing with a symptom of prejudice. Most of the people who are seeking to change from homosexual to heterosexual are doing so because they face family rejection, church pressure, or they've just been general victims of homophobic pressure or discrimination."

Tatchell says the appropriate response to that is to deal with the discrimination and help people come to terms with their sexuality.

What if someone is experiencing unwanted same-sex attraction and wants to change? asked News Hour host Victoria Laurence.

Tatchell says he has "huge sympathy" for people in that situation. "If these therapies did actually work, there may be some element of a case for them, but the fact is that in so many instances, there isn't the evidence. There have never been any independent, randomized trials to show that these conversion therapies work."

Last May, retired psychiatrist Robert Spitzer
retracted a controversial 2001 study he conducted that claimed "highly motivated" gays and lesbians could change their sexual
orientation. "In retrospect, I have to admit I think the critiques are
largely correct," Spitzer said.
  

In an interview with Wayne Besen, who has been challenging the "ex-gay" notion for years,
Spitzer admits the conclusions he made in the study were wrong. The
study “does not provide evidence, really, that gays can change. And
that’s quite an admission on my part,” he said. "I thought I
should also say to the gay community, I apologize for any harm I have
done to them because of the study and my initial interpretation. I certainly apologize to any gay person who, because of this study,
entered into reparative therapy and wasted their time and energy doing
that.”

Alan Chambers, head of the Florida-based, ex-gay Christian organization Exodus, which for
decades has promoted a message of “freedom from homosexuality through
the power of Jesus Christ,” also told a Gay Christian Network (GCN) conference that the majority
of people he has met are still gay. 

A little more than a year ago, Chambers told the conference, “we’re not using change as a slogan anymore. I’m very, very
clear to say, we used ‘Change is possible’ for so many years, and it was
used on me, and we used it, and the people who used it wanted it to
mean something more than it did . . . but we don’t use that phrase
anymore.”

“I am sorry that that is something we used,” he continued when asked by a GCN
conference panellist if Exodus had apologized for using the phrase over
a 30-year period. “This is something we regret very much being
ambiguous about, because I don’t think ambiguity with this subject is
helpful, so that is something that we’re very, very sorry about.”

 

Landing image: bookshop.parliament.uk

Bookmark and Share