Sharon made a short contribution to a 30 minute debate on gay-to-straight conversion therapy in Westminster Hall, secured by Sandra Osborne MP.
Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Sandra Osborne) on securing the debate, and on her powerful speech setting out the problem that we are hoping the Government can solve. I thank her, the Chair and the Minister for allowing me and other hon. Members to make small contributions to the debate.
I should also pay tribute to the many Members on both sides who have campaigned on the issue, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) for his excellent private Member’s Bill, and my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson), who did a national petition on the matter.
This debate comes during an important week for the LGBT community. On Monday, we celebrated the 10th anniversary of the abolition of the wretched section 28, and today is the annual transgender day of remembrance, when we remember the thousands of transgender people across the world who have paid the ultimate price, simply for seeking to be themselves. Those men and women have lost their lives at the hands of hate-filled zealots, because they had the courage to be who they wanted to be.
Pushing conversion therapy on people who are homosexual might not be on the same level as physical attacks on a member of the LGBT community, but it is certainly part of the wider problem of discrimination against them. That said, the psychological harm that medical professionals have recognised as a side effect of such attempts to change or tone down sexuality could well lead to the same end result.
Let us be absolutely clear: allowing the continuation of so-called therapists offering gay cures is, first, saying that being gay is problem that needs to be cured, and secondly, that it can be cured. Being gay is not an affliction. The only higher power that I defer to on the matter is the World Health Organisation, which has categorically confirmed that fact. Being gay cannot be cured any more than any other aspect of someone’s personality can be changed without doing that person serious damage.
What we want from the Government is similarly clear. The action taken last year by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, and in 2010 by the UK Council for Psychotherapy, is welcome. However, they cannot solve the problems themselves if the people they strike off their registers can still legally continue to call themselves therapists.
We need a system to ensure that counsellors and therapists are properly accountable. A statutory register has been put forward in the past as a solution to the problem, and in the absence of any better ideas, I still think that that is the way to go. However, I would be grateful for any other solution that the Minister can put forward that would have the same effect.
While such a system is set up, no doctor practising in this country—and certainly no doctor paid by our NHS—should be sending any of their patients to conversion therapy. Even if that patient begs to be referred, doctors swear an oath to do no harm, not to do whatever their patient asks them to do. We know that conversion therapy is harmful and doctors should know that too.
We also know that the majority of people who request conversion therapy do so because of pressure or abuse from family or peers.
+++The rest of Sharon's speech would have been as follows+++
Any doctor put in that position should therefore find ways of helping their patient come to terms with who they are, rather than becoming who they think they should be to avoid the bullying or discrimination gay people still face.
There may be a tiny proportion of doctors whose religious beliefs compel them to refer patients to conversion therapy, but it will be a far greater proportion who do so because they know no different.
The Department of Health clearly therefore has a responsibility – working with the professional bodies - to ensure that all doctors are well aware of their equality duties and that referral to this so-called ‘therapy’ is not acceptable.
Mr Hood, conversion therapy has no place in an equal and tolerant society.
We may never be able to completely stop it going on under the radar, but we can ensure that we aren’t legitimising it, and we can ensure that it receives no public funding.
I know the Minister will feel as strongly about this as me and other hon members here today, and I therefore look forward to a positive reply.