British Government To Ban Conversion Therapy

Jul 3, 2018
Originally published on July 3, 2018 7:55 pm

The British government says it will ban conversion therapy, the controversial practice of trying to change sexual orientation. Patrick Strudwick's reporting helped galvanize the movement that resulted in the ban.

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The British government announced today that it will ban conversion therapy. That's the controversial and widely discredited practice of trying to turn gay and lesbian people straight. Patrick Strudwick is a British journalist who put himself through that therapy to investigate and report on it. And his reporting helped galvanize the British movement that resulted in this new ban. Welcome to the program.

PATRICK STRUDWICK: Thank you. How are you doing?

SHAPIRO: I'm fine, thanks. I understand this afternoon you met with British Prime Minister Theresa May. Tell us what you learned.

STRUDWICK: Well, she had a reception at Number 10 Downing Street for people within the LGBT community who make a difference in various ways. So it was a kind of informal drinks party, but she also acknowledged some of the harm that her own party had done to our community, which was quite astonishing. And she also confirmed the British government will now ban conversion therapy.

SHAPIRO: And this is connected to some reporting that you did now almost a decade ago in 2009. You put yourself through this conversion therapy. You're an openly gay man. You did this as a reporting project. The therapists did not know that you were a reporter. What did it entail?

STRUDWICK: Well, I initially went to a conference for conversion therapists in London - therapists wanting to learn more about how to do it - how to make a gay person straight. And there I met a therapist and a psychiatrist, and I asked them to treat me. And what it involved was to find out what is wrong with you. They believe that the harm - damage was done to you as a child normally which resulted in homosexuality. In other words - because they see homosexuality as an illness, surely something must have triggered that.

SHAPIRO: So there were a lot of pointed questions about abuse and trauma, and whether...


SHAPIRO: ...You had experienced things in your childhood that may have been the cause of your sexual orientation.

STRUDWICK: Yeah. So they go looking for it. And when they don't find it, they suggest it. So when they asked me whether I had been sexually abused in childhood and I said no, they said I think it will be there. So they look for the wound, as they call it. They then try to heal it. They tried to intercept your sexual thoughts. I should point out also that some of the things that they suggest are just ludicrous. You know, they encourage you to engage in sort of hypermasculine pursuits.

SHAPIRO: One suggested you join a rugby team.

STRUDWICK: Right. And I know rugby is not a huge sport in America, but I'm sure your listeners will understand the extent to which being in a rugby scrum is not exactly likely to lessen someone's homosexual tendencies.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

STRUDWICK: But also I was encouraged by the psychiatrist to seek regular massages with another man in order to have non-sexual contact with a man, again, as if that's going to work.

SHAPIRO: And even though you went into this as a journalist without any actual intention of trying to change yourself, it had a really negative impact on you.

STRUDWICK: It really did, and that surprised me more than I can say. Some of the nasty little thoughts about the fact that there is something wrong with you started to creep into my conscious - waking mind - as I was going about my daily business. And I also started having neurological incidents. So I would have sudden facial contortions, and my limbs would suddenly jerk. And I went to a neurologist who did brain scans and could not find a biological cause and said this is down to extreme stress.

SHAPIRO: So how are you feeling about this announcement today?

STRUDWICK: I feel delighted that finally something is being done to curtail what is an abusive practice. You could hear the emotion in my voice because it's been such a difficult battle personally. But it's been easiest for me compared to anyone else who's actually been through it who wasn't a journalist. So I know how much this will mean to people who have been through it, and I know how many people will be prevented from terrible suffering. I know that this will stop people killing themselves.

SHAPIRO: Well, Patrick Strudwick, thanks so much for talking with us.

STRUDWICK: Thank you so much for having me.

SHAPIRO: He's BuzzFeed's LGBT editor for the U.K. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.