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'A person's sexual orientation is not up for debate': O'Gorman moves to outlaw conversion therapy in Ireland

The move comes after a new cross-party all-island coalition this week called for the practice to be banned.

Image: Shutterstock/Derick Hudson

MINISTER FOR CHILDREN Roderic O’Gorman has moved to ban conversion therapy in Ireland and tasked officials with exploring ways to outlaw the practice in the Republic. 

Conversion therapy refers to any form of treatment proposed to change a person’s sexual orientation or to suppress a person’s gender identity. There is a commitment in the Programme for Government to legislate to ban it. 

It’s been confirmed officials at the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth have now prepared a scoping paper on the issue and are currently engaging with the Department of Health to forward proposals. 

Speaking to The Journal, O’Gorman said the Government “must be proactive in banning practices that not only propagandise harmful and discriminatory messages, but ones that also have serious negative consequences on a young person’s mental health, with the potential to inflict long-lasting damage.”

“Legislating for a ban on conversion therapy will send a clear and unambiguous message to everyone, both younger and older, that a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression is not up for debate.

A ban would especially protect young people who may be subject to such ‘therapies’ due to external pressures .

The move comes after a new cross-party all-island coalition this week called for the practice of conversion therapy to be banned in Ireland.

The Anti Conversion Therapy Coalition (ACTC), which launched this week, was set up to push for the practice to be banned across the island of Ireland and raise awareness that conversion therapy has harmed many people in the past. 

“A lot of people up North would know that it still goes on,” said Christine O’Mahony, a member of ACTC. “We’re looking to find survivors to help with the campaign, it has affected a lot of people.”

“There are people [in the Republic] speaking out but a lot of people don’t speak about it because it’s such a triggering thing,” said O’Mahony. 

A number of politicians including Fianna Fáil’s Malcolm Byrne, independent Senator Alice Mary Higgins and Fine Gael’s Neale Richmond have backed ACTC’s campaign. 

In 2018, Sinn Féin Senator Fintan Warfield’s proposed to ban the practice with the Prohibition of Conversion Therapies Bill which would prohibit conversion therapy as “a deceptive and harmful act or practice against a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity and, or gender expression.”

Almost 20 senators co-signed the bill when it was first put forward but the bill has only reached the committee stage in the Seanad.

In December, almost 400 global leaders, including former president Mary McAleese and anti-apartheid campaigner Desmond Tutu, called for the practice to be banned in countries around the world. 

In the United States, 33 current and past students at federally funded Christian colleges filed a federal lawsuit against the US Department of Education this month. 

The suit claims the religious exemption the schools are given that allow them to have discriminatory policies is unconstitutional because they receive government funding, the Washington Post reported

“The Department’s inaction leaves students unprotected from the harms of conversion therapy, expulsion, denial of housing and healthcare, sexual and physical abuse and harassment, as well as the less visible, but no less damaging, consequences of institutionalised shame, fear, anxiety and loneliness,” according to the suit. 

Ian Power of SpunOut.ie told The Journal that a number of teenagers and young people have contacted his organisation after attempts to force them to undergo conversion therapy. 

“It’s a secretive and manipulative activity,” said Power, who said that some parents have forced their children to undergo the practice in the past. 

Power said the practice in Ireland “is quite insidious” and occurs through connections to people who carry out different types of conversion therapy.

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Later in life, said Power, gay and bisexual people can still be affected by the practice. 

We’ve found people who may be in their mid-20s or late-20s who were subjected to this process who are struggling with their identity … they are out or may be in same-sex relationships but they’re still struggling with their identity because they’ve told they’re unnatural.

Power said the practice is unregulated, not evidence-based and can take a number of forms. “For those it is happening to it can have a devastating impact on them,” he said. 

In Northern Ireland, Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey said in March that a rush to ban gay conversion therapy in the North could lead to ineffective laws that enable the practice to continue.

Sinn Féin’s Hargey said she would like to bring forward draft legislation immediately, but told MLAs she had received expert advice that more time was needed to ensure the law was watertight. 

She said administrations elsewhere in the UK and Ireland had encountered problems implementing prohibitions.

NO FEE TAOISEACH MIN O GORMAN PRESS CONF JB3 Children's Minister Roderic O'Gorman Source: RollingNews.ie

Hargey said she was working with an expert panel to put together Stormont’s sexual orientation strategy.

The minister said it was important to establish the scale of gay conversion treatment in Northern Ireland and the different names the practice is given.

“I don’t want to leave any loophole in the legislation that this practice may continue and therefore the legislation would be meaningless,” she told MLAs.

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