The following letter was sent by the Chair, Vice-Chair and members of the Foundation’s Inter-religious Advisory Board to the Secretary of State, Rt Hon Liz Truss MP who is Minister for Women and Equalities on July 7th 2020 regarding their concerns about so-called “conversion therapy” and the need for a ban:
Dear Secretary of State
We write as Chair and Vice-Chair of the Foundation along with members of the Foundation’s newly formed Inter Religious Advisory Board. We are a group of senior religious leaders and academics who support the aim of the Foundation: to tackle prejudice and discrimination within our religious organisations. We are keen to offer you our help and combined expertise, grounded in our experience of working with religious communities at a grass roots level, on how best to deal with matters relating to the often difficult intersection of sexuality, gender identity and religion.
Our immediate priority is to endorse the importance of the Church of England’s call, made back in July 2017, for the government to ban conversion therapy within the UK. We recognise with regret that this dangerous practice is conducted almost entirely within religious organisations, rather than in medical settings, and can cause deep psychological trauma with lasting mental health implications.
Research conducted in 2018 by the Foundation[i] with the help of the Government’s Equalities Office clearly shows that the vast majority of those who go through such “therapy” are children and young people[ii] who seek help from their religious leaders[iii]. The research also shows that they are primarily motivated by a belief that who they are is “sinful” and that they are “ashamed of their desires”[iv]. What is of greatest concern is that of those who had undergone such “therapy” and then suffered mental health problems, a third had attempted suicide and two-thirds had had suicidal thoughts[v].
This shows how urgent the need is for clear and decisive action by the government – put simply, lives are at stake. Whilst we recognise and applaud your overall aim to “end conversion therapy” we would caution you that this will not be possible until our religions have done more theological thinking on these matters – which we and others are committed to helping them do.
In the meantime, we need your help. We urge you to make it clear that the UK will not tolerate those who practice conversion therapy in any form, whether consensual or not, and that those who practice it will be prosecuted. This will have the impact of causing religious leaders to think twice, as they will be loath to risk having a criminal record that would stop them from following their vocation. It will also, importantly, enable victims to know that they will be understood and protected if they find the courage to speak out. Of course, sadly, few do as it ultimately risks them losing their entire support network – their friends, their family, their home and their work prospects. It is a trap few can escape.
As you are aware, these are complex matters. We would therefore be keen to meet with you to talk more about our concerns and how best we can, together, end conversion therapy once and for all.
Rt Revd Paul Bayes (Chair) , Bishop of Liverpool
Very Revd Dr David Ison (Vice-Chair), Dean of St Paul’s –
Anil Bhanot OBE, Interfaith Director of Hindu Council UK
Hannah Brock Womack, Elder of Sheffield and Balby Quaker Meeting
Urusla Halligan, Journalist and Co-Chair of “We Are Church” in Ireland
Dilwar Hussian, Founder of New Horizons in British Islam
Frederick Hyde-Chambers, Chair of Buddhist Chaplaincy Group and President of the Dhamma Centre
Senior Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, Senior Rabbi to Reform Judaism
Dr Jagbir Jhutti-Johal, Lecturer in Sikh Studies, University of Birmingham
Revd David Mayne, Moderator of the Baptist Union Council
Revd Michaela Youngson, former President of the Methodist Conference and Chair of London District
[ii] 53% of those who had attempted to change their sexual orientation were 18 or under, 32.2% were between19-24
[iii] 46.9% of people who had attempted to change their sexual orientation sought advice from their religious leaders and 19.6% had approached a “faith healer or specialised religious ministry”
[iv] 72% of those who attempted to change their sexual orientation did so because “I believed my desires were sinful” and 63% said that it was “because I was ashamed of my desires”.
[v] Of those who indicated that they had suffered from mental health issues (281 people), 32.4% (91 people) had “attempted suicide” and 68.7% (193 people) had had “suicidal thoughts”.