Equalities minister: ‘Gay conversion has nothing to do with faith’

Baroness Williams, Susan Williams the equalities minister

Gay conversion therapy has nothing to do with faith, the equalities minister has argued, comparing the practice to FGM in an interview with PinkNews.

Susan Williams, Baroness Williams, said that faith cannot be used as a smokescreen to allow abhorrent practices.

The junior government minister also addressed concerns over same sex marriage in Northern Ireland and LGBT-inclusive education in UK schools.

Q. The government’s LGBT+ action plan committed to stamping out gay cure therapy, but it was vaguely-worded in terms of seeking “legislative and non-legislative options.” Is there any progress on that decision making?

A. There certainly is. I hadn’t even realised conversion therapy existed, and I’d never met anyone who’d undergone it until a few months ago.

The stories from people are absolutely tragic about what they’ve had to go through all their lives.

It takes different forms, conversion therapy, it is not a simple thing, and we are doing some research, looking into what the right solutions are, both in the legislative space and the non-legislative space.

I won’t preempt it, but it may well be the case that legislation comes forward.

gay conversion therapy is practiced across the world and is legal in the UK

Gay conversion therapy is practiced across the world and is legal in the UK (ANDREJ ISAKOVIC/AFP/Getty Images)

Q. Many different faith groups say, “it’s part of our faith teaching.” How can the government move forward with the ban while respecting religious freedom?

A. I don’t think faith has got anything to do with it. All sorts of things are linked to faith — you look at FGM, that’s is not faith based, it’s cultural.

I think you cannot use faith as a smokescreen to allow a pretty abhorrent practice.

Q. One thing absent from the action plan was any settlement to bring equal marriage to Northern Ireland. At what point does the UK government listen to campaigners and politicians in Northern Ireland who say there needs to be settlement on this?

A. I sympathise… not only do I sympathise with with that point of view, I agree with it. But it’s also important to acknowledge that it is a devolved matter.

We absolutely would love the devolved administration in Northern Ireland to introduce it, but we need that administration back up and running. I’m sure it will be soon.

Q. But that has been the line for two years now…

A. It has been the line for two years. But I think it’s very, very important to respect that what we devolve, we make sure that we do devolve it, and not interfere.

Q. How long is it reasonable to leave the gay community of Northern Ireland to wait?

A. I think there’s a different question. How long is it reasonable to leave Northern Ireland full stop without an administration? And I hope that they resolve things and an administration’s back up and running soon.

I know there is an appetite for for it in Northern Ireland, one would hope that will be one of the first things that they do.

Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster at Stormont (Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

Q. MPs and peers in Westminster have been pushing backbench bills on this issue. Would you oppose that?

A. That backbench legislation has come to me, because [Tory peer] Lord Hayward a couple of weeks ago had pressed me on it. I told him I agreed with him, but that we could not impose it in Northern Ireland. A devolved administration would have to do it.

Q. In Birmingham, a school has faced significant protests over the past few weeks from parents—particularly Muslim parents, but also evangelical Christian parents—who have taken real issue with the LGBT-inclusive education. Do you understand those concerns?

A. I think schools need to be sensitive to concerns and I think they need to teach in a sensitive way so as to not undermine people’s religious sensibilities, and most schools do.

I think there’s a there’s a balance to be struck between the needs of the parents and the children, and the things that need to be taught in school.

Q. What can be done to deescalate that situation, where you have people staging protests outside a school because they object to an assistant headteacher being gay?

A. It’s so difficult for that school, and I do appreciate some of the problems that schools might have.

The fact your headteacher is gay, doesn’t make your headteacher any less of a good headteacher than if your headteacher was straight. I think parents have got responsibility to support the authorities that are teaching their children.

Q Do you think LGBT+ history should be taught in schools?

A. I think schools should be able to teach in the appropriate way to their children.

If that includes LGBT+ history… coming back to Alan Turing, his successes in what he achieved in saving this country cannot be deleted from history.

Part and parcel of education is learning about people in the round.