One month ago, Germany’s parliament passed a law forbidding “gay conversion” therapy for those under 18.
As well as punishments for those offering the service to under-eighteens, parents could also be prosecuted if they pressure their children to take part.
What is gay conversion therapy? Essentially, it is a type of treatment that has the mission of changing a person’s sexuality back to heterosexual. Lesbian women, gay men, bisexual and transgender people are the groups that are often a target of this so-called therapy.
Its effectiveness is unknown, but the damage that it can potentially cause is something that needs to be looked at. And quick.
In my previous articles, my advocacy of freedom of speech is clear. People can hold the views they like but must understand that some words may have consequences. Gay conversion therapy is a case in point.
Let’s look back at the definition of this therapy. The people who I will call the ‘converters’ are ultimately trying to find a ‘cure’ for someone’s sexuality. When you think of the word ‘cure’, you usually think of an illness or a disease. Whatever connotations you draw from that word, I can bet you it will be something negative. This is just a taster of how damaging this ‘therapy’ can be.
Of course, some would argue it is an option for those who genuinely do not want to be gay, bisexual or transgender but feel as if they probably fall under one of those categories. We do not need to criticise these people – we need to listen to them. By listening to these people, we can understand why they feel this way and help them as they come to terms with their confusion over their sexuality.
A lot of this could come down to the way that non-heterosexuality is viewed by certain religions and sections of society. It could be other reasons. There is no doubt that religion has its great advantages and often inspires us to push ourselves to greatness – but we need to ensure that we do not hide behind it when making comments. Engage in this debate by all means but as we constantly evolve as a society, we need to ensure we do not incite sexual orientation and gender identity hatred.
It is easier for people to incite hatred than we think – and this can have damaging consequences for the LGBTQ+ community.
Even the ridicule of non-binary people has left me feeling very uncomfortable, especially when like others, I was quite surprised by people identifying as gender-neutral. After thinking about this issue for many years since the Fox and Owl interview on Good Morning Britain, it became so simple in my head all of a sudden: you can be whoever you like as long as you are not hurting anyone.
When the issue comes is when someone accidentally misgenders a person and they are criticised for it. In a constantly changing world, we still need to adapt to using different pronouns for those who wish to identify as gender fluid. The main thing is: anyone can identify as whoever they like.
NHS staff have even signed a Memorandum of Understanding condemning the use of conversion therapy and I support Stonewall in their efforts in getting this document to include gender identity as well.
Germany has made the first step in banning gay conversion therapy for under-eighteens. This is significant. There are too many cases where parents or carers have forced someone to go to this ‘therapy’ when the person concerned does not actually want to go. The lasting effects of this could be detrimental to someone – especially when the therapy itself is seen to try and find a ‘cure’.
When someone wants to talk about their sexuality – the least that person deserves is someone who is impartial on the issue. That is easier said than done and many people could say that some could be swayed the other way and encouraged to come out when they may not be 100% comfortable with it. A solution to this needs to be found – and counsellors up and down the country have undoubtedly helped people with their sexuality in a positive way already.
In the future, I hope we get to a stage where people should not feel as if they need to come out. We are all equal. Regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, age, disabilities and more, the bottom line is no one should be less equal than someone else.
Counselling for people who are confused with their sexuality is vital – but gay conversion therapy could end up being a major cause of long-lasting mental health issues and in the worst case scenario, suicide.
This is why Germany is only halfway there to solving this issue – and I pray this law is extended to over 18s in the future as well. The real concern is the United Kingdom has not even made the same first step that their fellow European friends have. David Cameron’s achievement in legalising gay marriage during the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition should only be the start.
Can this Tory government go further?
No one should ever be silenced – but we have to weigh up people’s freedom to advocate and become a gay conversion ‘therapist’ against the long-lasting negative effects it can have on those who go to sessions – whether it is through their own choice or whether they have been coerced into going.
I think protecting those who are confused with their sexuality against bias and potential future damage to their mental health wins this one.