Fifth of gay Brits who try to change sexuality attempt suicide, survey says

by Rachel Savage | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 20 February 2019 19:31 GMT

A person carrying an umbrella walks past Westminster Abbey as it is bathed in sunlight during a break in rain showers in central London, Britain, December 3, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

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Many British LGBT+ Christians reported being forced to undergo conversion therapy to try to turn them straight

By Rachel Savage

LONDON, Feb 20 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A fifth of gay, lesbian and bisexual British people who have tried to change their sexuality have attempted suicide, while others have been raped in an effort to make them straight, according to a study of 'conversion therapy' in Britain.

Of 458 people who said they had experience of trying to become straight, 91 had attempted suicide and 22 had been forced to have sex with someone of the opposite gender, according to the survey, which had 4,613 total respondents.

It was conducted by the Ozanne Foundation, a charity, to gather evidence of the extent and impact of conversion therapy and released on Wednesday.

"There are young people's lives who are very significantly at risk," said Jayne Ozanne, a Christian who founded the charity to work with religious organisations on LGBT+ inclusion.

Ozanne suffered two nervous breakdowns when she failed to change and then suppress her own attraction to women, she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Conversion therapy, which can include hypnosis, electric shocks and fasting, is based on the belief, common in conservative religious communities, that being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender is a mental illness that can be cured.

Malta, Ecuador and just over a dozen U.S. states have outlawed it, according to the ILGA, a network of LGBT+ rights groups. Several nations are considering bans, including Britain, New Zealand and Australia.

The survey, which was put out online, raised issues of consent, with 76 people saying they had been forced to undergo conversion therapy.

Over half of survey respondents who had tried or been forced to try to change their sexuality were 18 or under when it first happened.

Jayne Ozanne, who led a study into LGBT+ people in the UK who attempt to change their sexuality, with Paul Bayes, the Bishop of Liverpool, who wrote the study's foreword. Handout/Alan Fitzgerald

They were also overwhelmingly religious. More than 90 percent attended a church as a child and two-fifths had been through 'deliverance ministry', which aims to cast out evil spirits.

The pressure to change their sexuality went hand-in-hand with psychological problems. Around 60 percent said they had suffered mental health issues as a result, three-fifths of whom were men.

"There is what I call an abusive mindset that says it's always your fault," said Ozanne, who tried "dozens" of types of conversion therapy in Britain, Germany, Argentina and the United States.

"It constantly leaves you in a negative place," she said. "It makes you hate yourself for who you are."

The survey's respondents were whiter and more likely to be English and Christian than Britain's general population. More than half were not straight.

Ozanne admitted that the survey had failed to reach British ethnic minorities and those from other religions. However, she said that the results should still be taken seriously, given the level of attempted suicides and other mental health issues.

Bisi Alimi, a gay activist who fled to Britain after being attacked in Nigeria, said that conversion therapy among British minorities often included forced marriage to someone of the opposite gender and being sent back to their family's country.

Both Ozanne and Alimi supported banning conversion therapy.

"If you criminalise it, it will go underground," Alimi said. "We cannot stop the problem... but we can at least reduce the damage to people."

(Reporting by Rachel Savage @rachelmsavage; Editing by Jason Fields. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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