Gay ‘cure’ therapy likened to female genital mutilation as Ireland advances ban

Irish politicians have likened gay ‘cure’ therapy to female genital mutilation, as they advanced a bill that would make conversion therapy a crime.

Senator Fintan Warfield, who is spokesperson on LGBTQI rights for Irish republican party Sinn Féin, introduced the Prohibition of Conversion Therapies Bill 2018, that would make attempts to perform gay ‘cure’ therapy illegal in Ireland.

The bill went before the Seanad in the Irish Parliament for its second reading today, securing passage after the government confirmed it would not oppose the legislation.

20 senators co-signed the bill, including senators from Sinn Féin, Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, the Labour Party, the Green Party and Independents.

Senator Warfield noted: “If enacted untouched, this ban would be the most comprehensive prohibition of conversion therapy in the world.”

Senator Fintan Warfield

He added:: “So-called conversion therapy is happening in Ireland, although the Irish Council for Psychotherapy has stated that efforts to change, manipulate or reverse sexual orientation and-or gender identity through psychological therapies are unethical under its guidelines.

“This Bill will help to affirm the identities of those who are struggling with their sexuality and deter others who seek to make interventions based on their fears or prejudices.

“It will prohibit conversion therapy as a deceptive and harmful act or practice against a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. We define ‘conversion therapy'” as meaning any practice or treatment by a person who seeks to change, suppress or eliminate sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

“This definition does not include any practice or treatment that provides assistance to an individual undergoing a gender transition, provides acceptance, support and understanding to a person or facilitates that person’s coping, social supports and identity exploration and development, including sexual orientation-neutral interventions.

“If enacted, the Bill would make it unlawful for any person to perform, offer to perform or advertise conversion therapy or to remove someone from the State for the purpose of conversion therapy. It also creates further offences that can only be committed by a professional, including referring a person to any other person to perform conversion therapy.”

Several senators who rose in support of the bill shared moving contributions from people who had been through conversion therapy themselves.

Senator David Norris branded ‘cure’ therapies targeted at gay men “the male equivalent of female genital mutilation.”

He said: “I remember dealing with somebody in the Hirschfeld Centre [Ireland’s first LGBT community centre] who had been through the therapy.

“He came from a wealthy farming family in Kilkenny. They referred him and he was given aversion therapy. It totally scrambled his mind.

“He was a real walking casualty but he was so brave and wonderful in the way he fought against this. It very deeply affected the rest of his life so he was really a casualty. This is brainwashing. It has been condemned by all reputable psychotherapy bodies.

“It has absolutely no credibility whatever. On the religious side, the intention is to inflict feelings of shamefulness and sinfulness in the people. How crippling this is for vulnerable young people.

“How crushing the effect on young people to be given the impression that they are sinful, shameful and disgusting.

“Conversion therapy is the male equivalent of female genital mutilation. It is precisely the same kind of thing. It is a savage attack on somebody, whether a man or a woman.”

Senator Ivana Bacik, who led previously-adopted legislation on FGM, responded: “Senator Norris referred to the Private Members’ Bill on female genital mutilation which was initiated in this House by me and passed some years ago. It is a useful parallel to make.

“There was unanimous support for that Bill, as there is for this one. The Minister for Health accepted the Bill and we steered it through the House, with Government amendments.

“Similarly, it created extra-territorial effect for various criminal offences. It has been an important Bill not just in terms of the practical impact, and there have been Garda investigations under it where the dreadful practice of FGM has come to light in Ireland, but also in that it has provided an important tool for advocacy to the many women’s and other groups campaigning to end the practice of female genital mutilation.

“I see this Bill in the same light. It also sends an important symbolic message as to the type of society we wish to live in, quite apart from the practical impact.”

Catherine Byrne, Minister of State at the Department of Health, confirmed the government would not oppose the measure.

She said: “I wish to make clear at the outset that the Minister and I fully appreciate the reasons this Bill was brought forward. The Government will not oppose this Bill.”

However, Byrne warned that the government had concerns “based on legal advice, that the Bill is not clear enough in its language”, and suggested amendments would be brought as the bill heads to committee stage.

The bill will return to the parliament on May 8.

Experts overwhelmingly agree that attempts to cure sexuality are futile, misguided, and often extremely harmful. Attempts to force teens to repress their sexuality has been linked to depression, self-harm and even suicide.

The European Parliament voted in March to condemn gay ‘cure’ therapy and urged member countries to ban the harmful practice.

The UK government has resisted calls to act, however, insisting that a ban could have “unforeseen consequences.”