LGBT Conversion Therapy Debate

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Department: HM Treasury
Monday 8th March 2021

(3 years, 2 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Hannah Bardell Portrait Hannah Bardell (Livingston) (SNP)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Gray. I can think of no better way to open my speech than where the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) finished, with a passage from Vicky Beeching, who gave me a lot of support before I came out publicly. In her book “Undivided: Coming out, becoming whole, and living free from shame”, she writes: “There was only one thing that had caused vast emotional shame in my life for years. I had known I was gay since I was 12 or 13. Keeping that hidden for two decades had been wrecking my heart and mind. Now, as I neared the age of 30, it seemed to be wrecking my body too. All these years I’d prayed and fasted, submitted myself to an exorcism, confessed to a Catholic priest, believed that conversion therapy could change a person’s orientation, read the Bible until my eyes were sore and never acted on my attractions even once. I’d done anything and everything to try and become straight or to shut down any desires for a life partner. My immune system, my adrenals and my sympathetic nervous system were all stretched to breaking point from years of living in fight or flight mode.”

If Members need any other first-hand accounts of how devastating conversion therapy is, a good friend of mine who wanted to remain anonymous shared this with me: “I had not known until today what they had endured. It’s only now, at almost 35 years old, that I even have some small level of strength to begin to deal with it. It cost me most of my teenage years and 20s. I still struggle with acceptance of my sexuality to this day, which has affected my ability to have any open and meaningful relationships. I went through years of really dark mental health battles because of this. The first time I tried to kill myself by suicide was at 12 years old, because I wasn’t who I was meant to be, and this was unfortunately the beginning of what was to become a very dark decade of self-hatred brought on because of these practices. It’s torture, and it has had lifelong debilitating effects that affect every part of my life. It has to stop.”

We should not have to choose between our religion and our sexuality, or between following the faith of our choice or the person we love. I might not be formally part of any faith, but I recognise what a huge part faith can play in many people’s lives and in our society. The national LGBT survey of 2018 showed that 51% of respondents who had undergone conversion therapy said that faith groups had conducted it, and 19% said it had been conducted by healthcare providers or medical professionals. As parliamentarians and legislators, we simply cannot allow such a practice to continue.

I was well into my 30s when I came out. Why I did not come out sooner will always be a mystery to me, but a big part of it was because I was from a single-parent family. I grew up in a loving family that I knew would accept me for whoever I was, but I did not grow up in a society that would accept me for whoever I was. I grew up in a society that said heteronormativity and having a parent of each gender was the ideal, and I could not face up to being a lesbian. Now, as the daughter of a single mother and as a proud out lesbian, I realise that they are my strengths, my superpowers, but that is not the case for so many in the LGBT community.

I know how hard it was to come out to a loving family and friendship group. I cannot imagine how difficult it is for people who are oppressed and subjected to conversion therapy, so we must draw a line in the sand. We must ask ourselves as parliamentarians, “What are we here for?” We are not here just to make grand speeches and gestures. We are here to bring about change, to change the law, and to outlaw that abhorrent practice.

James Gray Portrait James Gray (in the Chair)
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We have 50 minutes to go and six speakers. I call Simon Baynes