Enough talk, now ban this wicked pseudo science

Keshet UK Pride picture from 2017, with a Jewish member of the march wearing a kippah, alongside another with an Israel flag. (Jewish News)
Keshet UK Pride picture from 2017, with a Jewish member of the march wearing a kippah, alongside another with an Israel flag. (Jewish News)

While we celebrate the upcoming festival of Pesach, and contemplate freedom, LGBTQ+ people in the UK still lack the legal safety they need against abusive conversion therapy. I went through this process when I was 17 because my Orthodox community and its leadership failed me. We now have a chance to ensure nobody else in this country experiences this abuse and trauma again. We are obligated to act. 

According to Ban Conversion Therapy’s website [1], , it is defined as a “practice or intervention which attempts to erase, repress, cure or change someone’s sexual orientation – or lack of – and/or gender identity.”

When I found JONAH (Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality) I felt a sense of hope that I could fulfil what was expected of me – to be straight and marry a woman. I felt hope and excitement about undergoing this abusive practice because I knew deeply that being gay wasn’t acceptable in my community. I trusted the rhetoric that “God wouldn’t give me a challenge I couldn’t overcome” and put myself through this trauma and abuse because it felt less scary than the rejection of my community if I came out. Without a legal ban in place, conversion therapy will continue to be offered to vulnerable LGBTQ+ people of all ages in our community. This violates the biblical principle of lifnei iver, placing a stumbling block in front of a blind person.

There are those who present conversion therapy as a choice. But there is no element of choice when a vulnerable individual is faced with the option of losing the support of their community or changing themself to fit in with what is deemed desirable and ideal.

Put simply, if there had been a ban on conversion therapy when I was 17 and religious leaders in my community had spoken out about it, I would have been spared the trauma and impact of this deeply abusive practice.

By the time we sit down for our seders, it will have been 1,000 days since Theresa May’s government promised to ban conversion therapy in the UK. It will have been almost 1,000 days since the Chief Rabbi published his guide with KeshetUK on the wellbeing of LGBT+ pupils in Orthodox Jewish schools [2].. Conversion therapy is mentioned in Appendix 6 under the vague title of ‘Responsible Signposting’, but since then this practice has not been publicly condemned by the Chief Rabbi or any Orthodox rabbi in the UK.

Jewish practice values repetition as a means of developing commitment, yet when it comes to issues like this those in power seem to think just saying something once is enough. Whether it’s the government making a promise to ban conversion therapy or the Chief Rabbi pledging to safeguard LGBTQ+ people, repeated action is necessary to have meaningful impact.

This past week my story was shared by Elliot Colburn MP during a parliamentary debate on conversion therapy. During this discussion, Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch refrained from providing a clear timeline to bring a ban on these practices into place. While the government fails to provide a clear roadmap to a ban, conversion therapy continues to wreak havoc on the lives of LGBTQ+ people.

The National LGBT Survey [3]  found that half of respondents (51 percent) who had undergone conversion therapy said it had been conducted by faith groups.  Speaking about conversion therapy in a footnote of a report isn’t enough. It is up to our religious leaders to speak out publicly against this practice, again and again, until there is a ban. It is up to us as members of the Jewish community to push our leaders to ensure no LGBTQ+ person ever experiences such abuse again.



About the Author
Joe is a religious LGBT activist