Government move to eradicate 'gay cure' therapy, ITV News understands
Dean is in his late 40s, with a wife and a grown-up daughter. He loves his family deeply. In many ways, he has achieved a straight man’s dream - but only by living a gay man’s nightmare.
For decades, Dean suffered the trauma of trying to change his sexuality through what’s called ‘conversion therapy’, ‘cure therapy’, or in a Christian setting, ‘deliverance’.
It is incredibly rare to interview someone who has recently been through this process in Britain, let alone someone who has also led the sessions himself.
Dean tells me that until his early 20s, he had lived as a gay man, even campaigning for equal rights.
But after converting to Christianity around the age of 22, he began intensive therapy to try to turn himself straight.
For years he attended so-called ‘wholeness groups’, where he was told that he needed to resist his homosexual thoughts and urges in order to live a full Christian life.
The groups involved confessions, prayers, and the burning of any photographs, music and other belongings which were associated with his gay past.
On two occasions, Dean was also put through an exorcism, where a ‘gay demon’ was imagined to have found its way inside him.
“I remember the experience involved a lot of coughing, a lot of noise, a lot of deep growling”, he tells me, “and at the time I believed this was a demon being cast out of me”.
Dean was told if he fell back into old habits, the demon would return – this time accompanied by seven others.
Eventually, Dean began helping to lead the sessions himself. Often, he would trace someone’s family tree to find ‘bad spirits’ which might be a reason for their homosexuality.
Alcoholism, drugs or even divorce in the family were all suggested as a cause of being gay, and the group would pray that the individual could be ‘cut’ from their family line.
But over the years he became increasingly depressed by the fact that the therapy wasn’t working, until eventually he began praying that he would die.
“I wanted God to remove me from the world to lessen my suffering and to lessen the suffering of those around me”, he says.
Three years ago he took the brave decision to leave his ministry and come out as gay.
Dean’s experience sounds extreme, but to many it is familiar. ITV News understands that tomorrow Britain's largest ever survey of LGBT people will reveal that thousands of people have either been through conversion therapy or been offered it.
The methods are legal, unregulated and – as we found - easily available. But I understand the government is set to announce proposals to eradicate conversion therapy as part of its LGBT Action Plan, with the details still to be decided.
That angers a small minority who argue that gay people should be free to seek therapy if they wish to. Last week I travelled to Northern Ireland to meet one of them. Mike Davidson calls himself "ex-gay".
He is married to a woman himself and claims to help as many as 20 people a week to ‘step out of homosexuality’ via therapy sessions, either at his home or via the Internet.
“I look to explore their life journey”, he tells me. “Were they traumatised in some way, did they develop low self-esteem, or poor body image?” In essence, he looks for something which may have challenged a man’s masculinity and ‘made them’ gay.
There is no evidence that Mr Davidson’s techniques – or any conversion therapy – works.
On the contrary, three years ago the NHS and all the major clinical bodies in the UK signed a Memorandum of Understanding stating that conversion therapy is unethical and potentially harmful.
Studies have linked it to depression, anxiety, self-harm and an increased risk of suicide.
Mr Davidson has been struck off the register for his work and has no medical qualifications, despite calling himself a doctor (in reference to a PhD in education).
But when I challenge him on this, he insists he’s only offering a choice.
“You fundamentally misunderstand the role of the political running of these bodies…it’s very much about the agenda they wish to drive through. We are living in a society now that is turning very much against Christian values.”
He claims at least four or five of his clients have gone on to have relationships with women, insisting a ban on his work would be “anti-personal freedom, anti-marriage, anti-free speech” and “viewpoint discrimination.”
What Mr Davidson can’t tell me, however, is why he doesn’t offer his services to straight people who wish to become gay.
The answer is that almost nobody would seek such help. The very idea of conversion therapy is predicated on the fact that being gay is undesirable and less valuable than being straight.
The Church of England has itself expressed grave concerns about the stigma such therapies create.
Last year, its General Synod called for a government ban on conversion therapy. The Church is divided over the details, but the vote was pretty resounding.
Pastor Steve Chalke at Oasis Church says actions that lead to gay people "questioning if they are worthy to live is the real evil"
Now, the ball is in the government’s court. Just last year it was insisting that gay conversion therapies were relatively rare, but tomorrow’s new statistics have shocked the prime minister into action.
A worshipping Christian herself, she will now have to devise a way to navigate the complex religious sensitivities involved.
But it does look as if the majority of gay Christians will get what they’ve been praying for – an end to any belief that their sexuality can be cured.