(TW: This blog explores content of mental and physical abuse faced by the LGBTQ+ community)
My shock to learn that conversion therapy is still legal in this country and it seems I'm not the only one who didn't know this...
For anyone who is unaware, conversion "therapy" is the attempt to change or suppress a person's sexuality or gender identity. It is worth stating from the off that this does NOT work and is abusive, intrusive and in my opinion, should be looked back on as something from a shameful past, as opposed to being a present problem.
Up until about two months ago, the only time that I can recall in my 32 years on this planet that the notion of conversion therapy has briefly entered my consciousness, was through the original Borat movie and the Channel 4 drama series, It's a Sin. About 10 years or so apart from one another. Although, I was shocked each time, 100% certain that what I was observing was completely wrong and of course, felt nothing but sympathy and anger for the victim, the occurrences were so sparse and felt miles, decades and even religions away from anything that I would be likely to encounter in my life. I was aware that some of these things still went on "in America and other countries" but I sat on my moral pedestal in my pretty, wee country (which has some of the most progressive human rights laws in the world) feeling sure that it couldn't be happening here and certainly not legally, right? WRONG!
I have to confess I was completely, blissfully ignorant and I didn't give it too much thought. Please note: the deliberate italicisation of the word I to show how much I was living in my own little tiny bubble about this issue. Anyway, I'll quit with the italics now in the hope that my point is made. The good(ish) news for me, as good as news can be when your fellow citizens of the world are still sufferingis that I'm definitely not the only one who didn't know or even gave it a second thought that it would be legal, or actually had had much cause to think about it at all really. Definitely not saying that as an excuse but just as the honest truth. Not that that makes me feel better and this blog piece has taken me the longest of any to write as I wanted to at least try to educate myself, and raise my own awareness and do the huge suffering which has been, and is still being, felt by so many, even a tiny bit of justice. I had some homework to do but starting from 'Beginner's Level -Totally Unaware', I figured, and as the song goes... "the only way us up"!
I am a really inquisitive, some may say "nosey" person and there are certain people who I just feel comfortable saying..."here... (insert poor soul who has to listen's name)... You know this thing...(insert the thing) What exactly does it mean?" Luckily when you work with people so long and speak daily they get to know you and a "...and please keep it simple" request on the end of that sentence can be picked up on, without explicitly having to say/beg for it. So, basically, this is how the conversation went when my colleague (and pal) and I started talking about conversion therapy. I don't recall the conversation word for word or how it came about, we go off on a LOT of tangents! I recall it was something to do with the upcoming Holyrood elections and the candidates being asked to pledge their support for the #BanConversionTherapy campaign and I think I asked something along the lines of "What? For other countries?" or "Surely not here?" or "Is it a post-illegalisation apology?" or something along those lines. Complete confidence in my ignorance that it was an "other world" issue and certainly not a Scottish one, other than maybe righting the wrongs of a grim past. Either my colleague is really used to my sometimes relentless questions, or is just a really non-judgmental and not an "Oh my god, did you not know that?" kinda guy (a bit of both, I reckon). He took the time to chat to me about it and we had a really great , informative discussion. I absolutely hate that ("did you not know that?") question when you've literally just confirmed that indeed you did not know. Just tell the person and then they WILL know...simple! It just stops people wanting to ask stuff for fear of sounding stupid or firing back something sarcastic like: "well, would I have asked if I did?" Then the exchange is kinda ruined, everyone's a bit defensive and all hope of genuine dialogue and learning is completely squandered, leaving everyone a bit bruised and pissed off as a result! Luckily, my colleague is super sound and decided to tell me what he knew and, as I was so interested (and probably to shut me up), suggested some reading material and a movie which I could watch to learn more. Of course, I could never read enough books or watch enough movies to even get a glimpse of what being a victim or survivor of this barbarity is like but I made it my mission to learn a bit more. Also, I think my colleague was chuffed that I had shown a genuine interest in something I could tell he was really, very passionate about.
So, I've did a bit of homework and my own small (and I mean small) bits of activism. Signed petitions, wrote to my MP, followed and shared some social media accounts and campaigns (which I'll share below) and now wrote this blog. Fingers crossed it is well received or even initiates more questions. Minimal in the grand scheme of things but still important and not too time consuming either. Trying to learn more and see things from others' perspectives doesn't actually take too long and only has benefits and by doing so I believe you can purposefully secure your space on the right side of history. I am manifesting the outlawing of this abuse, which I know is coming. To clarify, by right side I mean correct and not right in the political sense but I would hope that is glaringly obvious.
It is actually quite difficult to find very many accounts from people in the UK who have experienced this abuse and Google is very over-populated with stories for the most part, from the U.S. Don't worry the pedestal is well and truly tucked away and there is absolutely NO smugness or "people in glass houses", "we're better than them" justification going on here. Yes, in America there may be hundreds of thousands of people being subjected to this, whereas in the UK it is predicted to be more like just hundreds. Totally irrelevant. One is too many! Hell, zero is too many if the legitimate threat still exists. Stonewall's "LGBT in Britain" health report in 2018 found that 5% of gay, lesbian and bisexual people have been offered services, "therapy" or many other means to change or suppress their sexuality, with the statistics higher in relation to gender identity. Going by these statistics it is clear that this is a very real threat that people are facing every day in this country.
The info for the UK is also out there if you look for it and credit to Jayne Ozanne, for her bold resignation from the government's LGBT Advisory Panel which has resulted in many people engaging with, or becoming aware of this issue, who simply weren't before. Like me! Jayne's reason for resignation was the "all talk and zero action" which the government has made in an attempt to make this abuse illegal. I was delighted to see Ireland pass a law for the banning of conversion "therapy" just this week. I mean this with absolutely no insult intended towards my many, many Irish friends but it is quite rare for Ireland to trump (and not that Trump) us politically. Not that it's a contest, I'm delighted for their country and all of its citizens. Upon one of my many, many google searches for this blog piece this was the first headline that appeared: "Ireland takes first steps to ban conversion therapy. Meanwhile, Boris Johnson is still twiddling his thumbs." This is not an attack on Boris as it is now on many, many peoples' political consciences and hopefully the recent attention which it has drawn will ensure that it is dealt with swiftly and correctly. It's all good and well to label something "abhorent" and "unacceptable" but if this is the case, WHY is it still legal? In the meantime, congratulations again Ireland!
One of the movies that my colleague suggested was based on the autobiographical accounts of Garrard Conley: Boy Erased. Brilliant film: tough watch! Garrard himself has stated that it is extremely accurate to his lived experiences. It is hard to believe that they haven't been given an extra shock/Hollywood factor and the scenes are simply shocking and unbelievable! Having read and listened to other accounts of the horrific practice, the stories seem pretty much identical, equally shocking and some with even more added "techniques" attempted and unthinkable experiences had. The bottom line is, whether one more violent, shocking or intrusive than the other, really any length that is ever taken to "convert" someone who is just being themself is categorically wrong and should be illegal. What does this say to the world and more importantly, the LGBTQ+ community if it is not?
People often use the excuse that many of the LGBTQ+ community enter into this voluntarily as they want to change and many victims and survivors have also stated that they did enter into it with a degree of agreement or personal responsibility. I have very justified skepticism about this and many who felt that they were consenting at the time, in hindsight can look back on how vulnerable, impressionable and with basically zero self-worth they were at this time. I think the fact that it is described as "therapy" is also so misleading as it is discredited by pretty much any organisation or human being with an ounce of decency. Also, it is just utterly pointless as it does NOT work. Thank goodness for that as the world would be a very dull and archaic place, which it still clearly is for a lot of people and with this being currently legal, this does not really prove it to be otherwise.
Hopefully not too much of a spoiler for the movie Boy Erased but guess what?...It did not work for Garrard, the many other victims and survivors and it even did not work for the men administering the abuse and some of the most high profile names in the cultish "field" of conversion "therapy" have come out as gay. This was the fate of Dave Mathieson, featured in the Fourcast Podcast (linked below) and who was one of the leaders in administering conversion "therapy" in Salt Lake City, through horrific and unthinkable means. He, himself turned out to be GAY! Yay! I really had to think how I felt about that and the many other "convertors" like Dave who ultimately come out in the end themselves. Smug? Relieved? Angry? It is so hard not to feel these emotions or other negative ones but it is also confirmation that usually if someone has such a massive and unfounded grudge against the actions and lifestyles of others, there is pretty much always an underlying reason for this. Needless to say, it still makes me really angry on behalf of so many people, including his wife of thirty four years and the immeasurable number of lives that he has ruined and all of the people who suffered at his hands. The reporter on The Fourcast, Minnie Stephenson, is a far better empath than me and stated that she, a member of the LGBTQ+ community, actually felt sympathy for a man in his 50s who had tried everything to ignore his true feelings and failed (love won!). It's also unfair for me to sit here and judge someone who I have no idea what their life and culture is like and who obviously fought against it for so long due to the culture and environment which he found himself living in. In the same way, it is not for anyone to judge Garrard for still speaking to his parents after "what they put him through". Hopefully, the more countries and states who ban this and the education given, the less people will suffer. Can my wee country be next, pretty please?
So! A heavy subject for a sunny Sunday indeed but something I've been thinking and learning about A LOT since that initial colleagues convo. The sun is shining today and it is a new moon tomorrow and hopefully it's A NEW DAY not long after that. I look forward to and hope for a better, fairer, truly equal future for all!
UK specific links for support and info on LGBTQ+ issues: BBC - Information and Support: LGBT Issues
The Fourcast- Gay Conversion Therapy: When will the UK Ban it?https://open.spotify.com/episode/0cZsQBYQb31UEId9cy8rsU?si=yl0F8Ul6QuWiqC8loQP00g
Please email your MSP (or equivalent whereever you are in the world) and ask them to support a ban on conversion therapy- Ban Conversion Therapy | Scotland (stonewallscotland.org.uk)
Scot Justin Beck's lived experience of conversion therapy: 'Conversion therapy left me emotionally traumatised' - BBC News
Garrard Conley website- Garrard Conley