Neither ‘straight’ nor honest – The Times’ undercover investigation into conversion therapy

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In the latest stinging exposé in The Times attacking so-called ‘conversion therapy’, lesbian journalist Emily Sargent signed up for counselling with a therapist offering to help her ‘change’ her sexuality. Just to be clear, Ms Sargent, voluntarily and of her own free will, without any element of compulsion, approached a Christian ministry offering pastoral support to those with same-sex attraction, saying that she wanted help to change her orientation; that she wanted to become ‘straight’.

Sound a bit familiar? Yes, these undercover stings are becoming a trifle monotonous. And predictably there follows a vicious denunciation of the counselling she received, despite her own admission that ‘Carol’, the name she gives the lady offering support, at no point tries to force change, but on the contrary is unfailingly ’empathetic’, repeatedly reassuring her that whatever path Ms Sargent chooses, she can be assured of her unqualified support. In other words, the whole process of change is left entirely to her.

So, let’s look at this. Emily Sargent has approached a group known to offer help to those unhappy with their sexuality, saying that this is exactly her situation, and that she wants to change: to become ‘straight’. At no point, as she acknowledges, is there any element of condemnation or coercion. On the contrary, ‘Carol’ simply encourages her to talk, exploring the reasons that might have given rise to her sexual attraction to other women, and to her current state of unhappiness.

Nevertheless, this is apparently sufficient for our intrepid reporter to launch into an excoriating denunciation of all attempts to help someone change their sexuality. It engenders self-loathing, despair, loneliness … and it doesn’t work, she writes. In particular, she singles out what she calls ‘prayer therapies in a religious context’, which, she warns, may be allowed to continue under a ‘religious loophole’ once the ban is imposed, something Ms Sargent clearly views as abhorrent and wants to stop.

There is, however, one very large elephant in the room that our crusading journalist totally ignores. From the beginning of the article, she makes it clear that she has approached ‘therapy’ with the sole desire of exposing it as a coercive, homophobic practice. Right from the beginning, she proudly declares her lesbianism, and that she’s in a long-term relationship that she clearly has no intention of giving up.

But for obvious reasons, given the nature of the article, she keeps this fact hidden from those she approaches, telling them only that she wants to be straight and not lesbian any more. In other words, this woman deliberately deceives those who in good faith try to help because her agenda is to expose the severe psychological damage that she claims always results from such ‘therapies’, and which never work.

So not an objective investigation then, and by no means examining all sides. In fact, her report is not just selective, but completely ignores the pain of those who truly don’t want to live with same-sex attraction. Perhaps because they’re already married to someone of the opposite sex, or they want to be, or because they want the benefits of a traditional, stable family with their own biological children.

But people with these kinds of feelings apparently don’t matter because, to Ms Sargent, they are deluded and psychologically oppressed by a heteronormative society dedicated to imposing its narrow-minded and bigoted views on those regarded as deviant. So, just to be straight – no pun intended – choice trumps all, but only when it works one way. To put it another way, you’re not allowed to choose not to be gay.

Does this then mean a heteronormative person wouldn’t be allowed therapy if they wanted to feel attraction to someone of their own sex? Logically, it should – but in LGBT world one suspects that particular aspiration would be applauded.

So, back to Ms Sargent’s article, choice is to be celebrated only if it works one way. But exactly why can’t people who don’t want to be gay not be allowed freedom of choice? Why can’t they seek help? As it is, the current drive to ban so-called conversion therapy suggests not so much a push for equality and acceptance, as fear.

Speak to any counsellor offering such therapies, and the first thing they’ll say is that people have to want to change, and that the ‘therapy’ consists in talking and support, as the client then makes their own decisions. And, when this is so, all the evidence points to the process being quite startlingly successful, as for example shown by the Facebook testimonies of some of those who’ve been helped.

But the big thing is that people have to want to change – as Ms Sargent demonstrably didn’t. Yes, there are the occasional horror stories of exorcism within some of the more extreme religious groups – and such practices should never be approved – but as a general rule, in this day and age, people are not forced or coerced into giving up their sexual preferences. Equally, they should never be forced or coerced into enduring inclinations and attractions they don’t want. Simple justice demands that choice for all be upheld.

Rev Lynda Rose is founder of Voice for Justice UK, a group which works to uphold the moral values of the Bible in society. 



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