Christian group promoting ‘bogus’ conversion therapy won’t be stripped of charitable status

Mike Davidson of Core Issues Trust conversion therapy

Northern Ireland’s charity regulator has decided not to take action against an organisation that claims to help people “change” their “sexual preference”.

Core Issues Trust is a controversial Christian organisation, based in Northern Ireland, that claims to “challenge gender confusion” and help people to end their “homosexual behaviours and feelings”.

The organisation, run by Mike Davidson, holds charity status despite its support for discredited and harmful conversion therapies, which seek to change LGBT+ people’s identities.

The National Secular Society wrote to the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland in 2020 asking it to review Core Issues Trust’s status as a charity.

But the commission told the National Secular Society that it has now closed an enquiry into Core Issues Trust and that it will not be stripping the organisation of its charity status “at this time”.

In a letter written to the National Secular Society, the charity regulator said it is “not the role of the commission to adopt a position on the charity’s conduct in this matter”.

It said Core Issues Trust insists its therapies are “beneficial” and the organisation “contests the view that this practice is inherently harmful”.

In an earlier letter, written in January, the commission said a charity’s purpose must be “beneficial, not harmful”, but added: “We note that the practice of conversion therapy/change oriented therapy is not among the purposes of the charity.”

Bogus therapies which encourage people to change or suppress their sexuality are harmful, unethical and widely discredited.

The regulator’s letters appeared to suggest that it cannot take a position on conversion therapy while the practice remains legal in Northern Ireland.

“Should the UK government or the NI Executive elect to legislate on the matter then this would provide a definitive steer to the commission on the issue of benefit/harm,” the most recent letter said.

Conversion therapy is ‘harmful, unethical and widely discredited’

National Secular Society chief executive Stephen Evans said the commission’s reasoning is “wholly inadequate”.

“Bogus therapies which encourage people to change or suppress their sexuality are harmful, unethical and widely discredited.

“It beggars belief that groups that promote them can enjoy the tax breaks and public recognition that charitable status brings.

“The case also shows the need for a rethink of religion’s privileged status in charity law, which would make it easier to hold groups like Core Issues Trust to account.”

Legislation to ban conversion therapy is a devolved matter for Northern Ireland, according to the Department for Communities, meaning the territory will advance its own laws separately to the UK government.

The practice has been condemned by various health and psychiatry bodies across the world, and has been banned in a number of countries. Despite this, it remains legal in all territories of the UK.

Core Issues Trust is one of the most vocal advocates of conversion therapy in the UK. The group objects to the notion that sexual orientation is “fixed” and believes LGBT+ people can “voluntarily seek change”.

In a statement, Core Issues Trust told PinkNews it is “difficult” to understand why the National Secular Society wants the organisation to lose its charitable status.

“The charity represents the rights and freedoms of individuals who were formerly LGBT and are seeking support for new directions they have chosen,” Mike Davidson said.

“Apparently the NSS doesn’t believe in ideological diversity and supports only those with similar view points to their own. Core Issues Trust supports the dignity of those who we disagree with, we don’t however, call for them to be removed as a means of promoting our own values.”

PinkNews has contacted the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland for comment.