Northern Ireland just committed to banning traumatising conversion therapy in a groundbreaking move

Conversion therapy

Ministers in Northern Ireland have committed to banning traumatising conversion therapy in a groundbreaking move for the territory’s LGBT+ community.

Conversion therapy is defined as the effort to change a person’s sexuality or gender identity. It has been condemned by most major psychiatric bodies and has been described by the United Nations as a form of torture.

Despite this, it is still legal in the UK – but plans are now underway to outlaw the harmful practice in Northern Ireland.

In a virtual meeting on Tuesday (September 8), communities minister Carál Ní Chuilín, health minister Robin Swann and justice minister Naomi Long committed to ending the practice in Northern Ireland.

Ní Chuilín will serve as policy lead with input from others in the Northern Ireland Executive.

Minister Long said the legislation will require input from both the health and justice departments and said there is currently a “lack of legal power” to prevent conversion therapy.

“When I wrote to raise this issue with executive colleagues I did so because I was concerned that the lack of any legal power to stop conversion therapy being practiced in Northern Ireland is leaving the way clear for more of our young and vulnerable people to be damaged by this dangerous practice,” Long said in a statement.

“I wanted to ensure that an appropriate vehicle for taking this forward at the earliest opportunity could be identified.

“I, therefore, welcome the commitment from the minister for communities as policy lead for LGBT+ issues to take forward this important work: further, both the health minister and I have agreed to our officials working with officials from her department to this end.

“I am fully committed to doing everything I can to ensure these harmful practices stop and will work with Executive and Assembly colleagues to achieve this.”

In a statement, the Northern Ireland department of health said: “This is an issue that straddles a number of departments across the Executive. The department of health is sure that departments can work well together going forward.”

Plans to ban conversion therapy in Northern Ireland have been welcomed.

The decision has been praised by Northern Ireland Humanists, who branded conversion therapy “pseudoscientific and abusive”.

The group also called on Health and Social Care (Northern Ireland’s health service) to denounce the practice for workers.

Kathryn Kerr, Northern Ireland Humanists lead for LGBT+ humanists said: “We are pleased to hear the Executive is taking the issue seriously, and we would like to extend our support and expertise to ministers in drawing up plans to outlaw conversion therapy.

“We want to see a full ban in legislation, but in the meantime, conversion therapy continues to threaten and harm LGBT+ young people.

“That’s why we are also calling on the HSC to commit to a memorandum of understanding with the department of health to never participate in or endorse conversion therapy.”

The move was welcomed by Sinn Féin MLA Emma Sheerin, who said the “archaic practice” seeks to “denormalise and completely eradicate a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression”.

“Conversion therapy is rooted in intolerance and bigotry, with those that conduct the therapies regularly exploiting the vulnerabilities of young people who are struggling with their sexuality,” Sheerin said in a statement.

“I welcome that communities minister Carál Ní Chuilín has committed to working to outlaw this deeply harmful and regressive practice.”

She continued: “It is time to ban conversion therapies and to stand against hate.”

The move was also welcomed by The Rainbow Project, a Northern Irish LGBT+ charity.

“All forms of sexual orientation and gender identity change efforts are wrong and cause immense harm to LGBTQ+ people who have experienced these practices, including increased risk of self-harming behaviours and suicide, isolation from friends, family and community and, for religious LGBTQ+ people, a loss of faith,” the group’s director John O’Doherty told PinkNews.

He said the organisation will work with ministers in the UK to ensure that “all forms of conversion are banned, be they secular or religious.”

The news comes more than two years after the UK government pledged to ban conversion therapy – yet the traumatising practice is still legal in the UK.

In July 2018, the Tories pledged to “eradicate” the practice, but progress has been slow.

In July of this year, prime minister Boris Johnson said conversion therapy “has no place in a civilised society”, but suggested that the government would have to do more research before banning the practice.