Religious leaders press equalities minister to ban conversion therapy amid possible delay

Gay conversion therapy is described as a 'cruel practice'. In July 2019  ITV News recorded a pastor calling on the Holy Spirit to 'push something else out' of our undercover reporter.
Gay conversion therapy is described as a 'cruel practice'. In 2018 ITV News recorded a pastor calling on the Holy Spirit to 'push something else out' of our undercover reporter. Credit: ITV News secret filming

Words by ITV News Political Correspondent Paul Brand and Westminster Producer Rachel Bradley

Religious leaders have written to the equalities minister calling for the government to deliver its promised ban on so-called gay 'conversion therapy'. ITV News understands the government had hoped to make an announcement on banning the harmful practice before Parliament breaks for the summer in a couple of weeks, but there are now growing concerns that the plans may be delayed further. 

In a letter to the Equalities Minister Liz Truss, seen by ITV News, representatives from all the major faiths in the UK have reiterated the importance of pressing ahead with a ban as soon as possible.

The organiser of the letter, Jayne Ozanne, whose charity The Ozanne Foundation works to end discrimination based on sexuality or gender within faith communities, told ITV News: “The need for a clear ban on conversion therapy is urgent, as young lives are at risk.

"Our research has shown that those most likely to undergo ‘conversion therapy' are children and young adults, who go to their religious leaders for help as they believe their desires to be 'sinful'. 

Watch: ITV News uncovers UK church that claims God can fix gay people

"The impact on their mental health is severe, with significant numbers going on to consider and sadly even attempt suicide.

“Whilst a ban will not in itself end this cruel practice, it is a critical step towards it as it will show that the UK does not tolerate anyone who practices conversion therapy in any form, whether consensual or not, and that those who do so will be prosecuted.

“This will cause religious leaders to think twice before performing it." The letter comes two years after Theresa May told ITV News that the government would ban ‘conversion therapy’. Despite the practice being condemned by all the major psychiatric and psychological bodies in the UK as deeply damaging to LGBT+ people, it is not a criminal offence.

In 2018, ITV News exposed concerning practices at two separate organisations in the UK. At Winner’s Chapel, our undercover reporter was told that his homosexuality was caused by the devil and was offered intensive prayer, while the Christian organisation Journey UK provided textbooks to another of our undercover reporters, saying that homosexuality was a “neurosis”

Last month, Liz Truss reiterated the government’s promise to ban the practice, telling MPs in Parliament: “Conversion therapy is a vile, abhorrent practice that we want to stop. We have commissioned research to look at the scope of the practice in the UK, and we will publish our plans shortly after we receive that research.” 

However, ITV News understands that while the government had hoped to provide an update next week on what form a ban might take, it’s possible that the announcement may now be delayed until later in the year, with the department still finalising the plans. 

Campaigners are also concerned that any ban will still allow for “spiritual guidance” for those who are struggling with their sexuality, creating a grey area in the legislation where versions of ‘conversion therapy’ continue to take place.

Pressure is building on the Government to take decisive action on the issue. A letter circulating online and gaining celebrity signatories will be sent to the minister on Friday, also calling for a ban. And Parliament will debate an online petition to make ‘conversion therapy’ illegal, after it surpassed 200,000 signatories. 

ITV News will be featuring victims of ‘conversion therapy’ in a series of reports next week.