The diligent efforts of Hull North MP Diana Johnson have finally led the government to state its views on the practice of gay conversion. A question tabled by Johnson on the 8th November  asked the government to clarity what its “policy is on conversion and reparative therapies offered to homosexual people by counsellors and psychotherapists.” This received a reply from Health Minister Norman Lamb which is worth quoting in full:
“The Department of Health does not condone the concept of therapists offering ‘cures’ for homosexuality. There is no evidence that this sort of treatment is beneficial and indeed it may well cause significant harm, to some patients. It is incumbent on professionals working in the national health service to ensure that treatment and care, including therapy, is provided to every patient without any form of discrimination.
“If someone is suffering a mental health problem, clinicians will try to help patients with whatever is causing them distress. This could involve helping someone come to terms with their sexuality, family arguments over their sexuality, or hostility from other people.
“We know from research that the incidence of depression, anxiety and suicide within the gay community is significantly higher than within the heterosexual community and this is why “No health without mental health” identifies lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people as a specific group for whom a tailored approach to their mental health is necessary.”
We can’t claim credit for this. Diana, who will of course be submitting our petition calling for an end to gay conversion at some point next year, took the initiative in asking her this question. One of our members, Colin Livett, is worthy of much praise as he asked her to table a parliamentary question on the regulation of the psychotherapy sector. She duly obliged to his request, but then went one step further by asking the government to finally state its opinion on the despicable practice of gay conversion itself.
The story of Diana’s significant achievement has rightly received coverage from Pink News, although the government’s response to her question  asking “what plans the Government has to introduce a mandatory licensing scheme for psychotherapists” has received less coverage, and is crucial to understanding what the Coalition’s real plans are. Their response was as follows:
“The Government have no plans to introduce statutory regulation for psychotherapists. However, the Health and Social Care Act 2012 provides for the Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence, which is to be renamed the Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care (PSA), to quality assure voluntary registers of unregulated health care professionals and health care workers in the United Kingdom, social care workers in England, and certain students.
“The new accreditation scheme is due to be launched on 3 December 2012. A number of organisations including ones relevant to psychotherapy have already expressed their interest to the Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence in becoming accredited voluntary registers.”
So although, as Pink News rightly emphasises, the government has implied that gay conversion is unacceptable, it has no plans to regulate the psychotherapy sector to prevent practicioners from getting away with the wholly unprofessional practice of trying to convert LGBT people. As they also show no signs of doing the alternative to regulation, which is banning conversion therapy outright, they are in the rather precarious position of criticising a practice they don’t actually intend to do anything to stop.
Campaigning against conversion therapy and calling for an end to the practice is thus still absolutely essential. The government has contradicted itself by implying it disapproves of conversion, but in our view that’s just not good enough.
UPDATE (19/11/12): Diana Johnson MP has now sent us a brief statement in support of our campaign. It reads: “I fully understand and support this petition started by my constituents against the cruel and unnatural practice of conversion therapy. Most people would be astounded that it’s still happening in this century.” She adds that “the Health Minister recently told me that the Coalition Government ‘does not condone’ conversion therapy, but there was no commitment from him to any action on ending it.” She rightly stresses that “does not condone” doesn’t constitute an active condemnation of the practice. Let’s not make the mistake of confusing the two. The government’s stance is still very far away from the explicit rejection of conversion therapy as a legitimate practice by psychotherapy organisations like the BACP.