Members of Northern Ireland’s Legislative Assembly (MLA) have passed a historical motion introducing a fully-supported ban on conversion therapy.
A motion, presented by the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), called upon Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey to introduce a conversion therapy ban.
Conversion therapy is the practice of attempting to ‘erase, repress, cure or change’ someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity through forms psychological and physical methods.
At its most extreme, it involves shock therapy where LGBTQ+ people are subjected to jolts of electricity while watching scenes of same-sex affection.
The UUP stated it was “fundamentally wrong to view our LGBTQ community as requiring a fix or cure”.
The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) introduced an amendment which included protections in light of the pending ban for “legitimate religious activities such as preaching, prayer and pastoral support”.
The DUP was criticised for removing a line which states conversion therapy was “fundamentally wrong to view our LGBTQ community as requiring a fix or cure”. The amendment was defeated by a majority vote of 59 to 28.
MLA’s voted on Tuesday (20 April) passing the motion by 59 votes to 24.
“The outcome of today’s Assembly debate is a positive one and we’re pleased that such cross-party support exists to ban conversion therapy,” said Aisling Twomey, member of the Ban Conversion Therapy NI campaign group and advocacy manager at The Rainbow Project.
Twomey added: “We now need to see work get underway at pace to bring forward legislation before the end of the current Assembly term to ensure conversion practices are banned without delay. We look forward to working with the minister to deliver on today’s mandate from the Assembly in a fair and robust way.”
UUP MLA Doug Beattie was pleased with the outcome of the vote. “I am delighted that we were able to bring this issue to the floor of the Assembly. Since our motion was announced we have seen a swell of vocal support across all sections of the society for a ban on this harmful practice.
“So-called ‘conversion therapy’ has no place in our society. To suggest that our LGBTQ+ population are in need of a fix or cure is fundamentally wrong.
“The Assembly had an opportunity to send a message to those who have been subjected to this disgraceful practice that we hear them and will right this wrong. Conversion therapy has a devastating impact on the lives of those who have undergone it and many still suffer from poor mental health for years afterwards.
“Conversion therapy exists in an environment where a culture of shame is cultivated. This culture creates a problem and offers a solution through conversion therapy. We cannot look away from the devastating effect of shame on LGBTQ people. Quite simply, shame is a killer. Lives have been lost after people were driven to a helpless and hopeless place.”
Nancy Kelley, CEO of Stonewall, said she is “delighted” by the news. “We are delighted that Northern Ireland has become the first UK nation to vote in favour of banning conversion therapy,” Kelley said.
“This fantastic result is the culmination of years of campaigning and the recent work of the Ban Conversion Therapy Northern Ireland coalition, which we’re proud to be part of. It was moving to hear such passionate speeches from across the political spectrum, and now the Minister for Communities must urgently bring forward legislation to deliver on the Assembly’s resounding mandate.
“We hope that this powerful move forward for a full legal ban on conversion therapy will inspire swift movement from the Governments across the rest of the UK in implementing their own effective legislation to outlaw this barbaric practise.
“In 2021, no LGBT+ person should ever be made to feel that they need to change who they are. Last night the Assembly voted to protect our communities from harm and it’s time for other nations to stop dragging their feet and follow suit.”