DUP politicians slammed for ‘condescending’ conversion therapy argument invoking Adam and Eve

DUP MLAs David Hilditch and Tom Buchanan conversion therapy

Two DUP representatives have been heavily criticised by LGBT+ activists after they sent “condescending and disrespectful” responses to campaigners pushing for a full ban on conversion therapy.

On Tuesday (20 April), MLAs in the Northern Ireland Assembly debated a motion calling for conversion therapy to be banned in Northern Ireland. An overwhelming majority voted in favour, with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) the only major political party to vote against it.

The DUP faced significant criticism from the LGBT+ community in the days leading up to the debate after it tabled an amendment to the motion which would remove a line that said it is “fundamentally wrong to view our LGBTQ community as requiring a fix or cure”.

In the days before the debate, the Anti Conversion Therapy Coalition (ACTC) urged its members to email MLAs encouraging them to vote in favour of the motion, which was put forward by Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) representatives Doug Beattie and John Stewart.

But members of the ACTC were disappointed when they received “insensitive” responses from DUP MLAs David Hilditch and Tom Buchanan.

In his response, Buchanan claimed Beattie’s motion calling for a conversion therapy ban “fails to provide protection for Christian ministers and pastors of the gospel who set forth the way of eternal life for all people through faith and repentance in the Lord Jesus Christ as their saviour.”

Buchanan continued: “Through Adam’s disobedience in the garden of Eden the Bible reminds us that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God and that we all require spiritual conversion through faith in Christ.

“The motion clearly calls for conversion therapy to be banned IN ALL ITS FORMS which would criminalise these ministers and pastors. I therefore feel the DUP amendment provides both this clarity and protection and see no reason why all members could not support it.”

Meanwhile, a representative for Hilditch wrote a lengthy response to an ACTC member, claiming that the motion, if passed, would impact on “freedom of religion”.

“As you say, conversion therapy is conversion therapy regardless of how it is being carried out, or which organisation or individual is carrying it out,” Hilditch’s representative wrote.

“The amended motion is not challenging that. Likewise, though, activities that aren’t conversion therapy are still not conversion therapy regardless of the how, who, or when details. Church prayer? That’s not conversion therapy. Worship? Nope, not conversion therapy either. Nativity plays? No, no conversion therapy there. Communion? Unless there’s something coercive, suppressive and homophobic about a snifter of Sunday morning wine and nibble of bread then that’s not conversion therapy.”

The letter concluded: “David can’t offer any assurances that he – or his party colleagues – will vote against the [*checks notes*] DUP amendment to the motion. However, in its amended form he (and they), believe it does indeed ban conversion therapy in all its forms, and thus provides improved protection for the LGBTQIA+ community in Northern Ireland.”

The ACTC told PinkNews that it was “extremely disappointed” at the responses received from both Buchanan and Hilditch.

“ACTC are very disappointed at how condescending and disrespectful the emails sent to our members were,” a spokesperson for the campaign group said.

“This is a sensitive issue and these emails were extremely insensitive and making light of the issue. Views on the motion aside, it was a disgrace the way they spoke to people that reacted out to them.”

The group went on to accuse the DUP of trying to “distract from the issue at hand” by claiming religious freedom is under attack.

“We don’t want religious practice being used as a veil for exposing members of the LGBTQ+ community to psychological torture, which fosters self-hatred and self-abandonment as opposed to self-love and self-acceptance,” the ACTC spokesperson said.

Eóin Tennyson, an Alliance councillor who campaigns on LGBT+ issues, criticised the MLAs for their refusal to engage with members of the community in their responses to ACTC members.

“The DUP’s responses to constituents, and indeed their amendment tabled in the Assembly, are evidence once again that they are deaf to lived experiences of LGBTQ+ people.

“We must end these practices – whether they are being carried out under the guise of psychotherapy, medical intervention or religious counselling. Efforts to create clauses that allow perpetrators to inflict these practices on LGBTQ+ people with impunity will only allow the harm to continue.”

Tennyson added: “To be clear, I believe in freedom of religion. But it ceases to be ‘freedom’ at the point where it is involved in the name of discrimination and harm.”

The DUP’s amendment to the motion on conversion therapy was voted down on Tuesday. Shortly afterwards, MLAs voted by 59 to 24 in favour of the motion.

The motion recognises that conversion therapy is a “harmful practice” that damages the mental health of those who are subjected to it. While it is non-binding, advocates believe it will send a clear mandate to the communities minister to pursue a wide-ranging ban that will put an end to conversion therapy in Northern Ireland.

The result is that Northern Ireland could become the first region of the UK to ban conversion therapy almost three full years after the UK government first pledged to outlaw the practice.

PinkNews has contacted Hilditch, Buchanan and the DUP for comment.