Ireland has had a difficult journey when it comes to questions of sexuality and gender identity. However, we are, much more so than in the past, a country which understands the value of diversity and fundamentally wants all people living here to be able to live happily as their authentic selves.
So far, thankfully, we have avoided the kind of misguided culture war that has been seen in other countries on questions of human rights. I do not believe that the often-heated debates on human rights, particularly trans rights, that we have seen in the UK, for example, have improved lives nor indeed provided any clarity for people who may genuinely wish to gain a better understanding of the issues.
Irish people are rightly proud of the progress we have made as a country. Ireland is a kinder country than it was in the past, and while we should take heart in that, we should not be complacent.
Conversion therapy purports to be able to intervene, using pseudo-scientific or faith-based methods, in the natural psychological development of an individual
Over the course of the summer a debate took place on the pages of this paper on “conversion therapy” – an outdated and disproven process which seeks to “convert” someone’s sexuality or gender identity. That discussion focused on proposed legislation to ban this practice, and the intentions behind that legislation.
To be clear: legislation banning conversion therapy is coming. It is a commitment in both the Programme for Government and the LGBTI+ National Youth Strategy, and it is a commitment that, as Minister for Equality, I strongly support.
Legislating for a ban on conversion therapy will send a clear and unambiguous message to everyone that a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression is not up for debate.
Conversion therapy purports to be able to intervene, using pseudo-scientific or faith-based methods, in the natural psychological development of an individual. This is generally related to a young person, with the aim of eliminating or suppressing what is viewed by those administering the “therapy” as an unwanted and “curable” aspect of their identity.
Throughout this year I have met with people who have experienced so-called conversion therapy, both in Ireland and abroad. They have told me about the impact of a process which, at its core, attempts to deny an individual’s very identity and, in doing so, leaves a lasting trauma. It is a cruel and furtive process, rooted in the promotion of shame.
Meeting people who have been subject to this process has only strengthened my conviction that conversion therapy should be outlawed. We must no longer shame people for who they are.
In April, I asked staff in my department to prepare a scoping paper to outline the fundamental issues in the area. With this scoping paper, we are beginning research which will guide the Government as we move forward to design effective and carefully considered legislation. Our aim is that all proposals brought forward are based on evidence and will rightly be subject to rigorous analysis.
We have a duty to act in the best interests of those we serve, particularly the most vulnerable
While proposals are still under consideration, no ban on conversion therapy would restrict appropriately qualified professionals from assisting their patients, and their parents in the case of younger people, in making their own decisions according to the best available medical advice. What we are seeking to do is outlaw an outdated, harmful and unscientific practice, which has caused great harm over many years, and is most frequently found in religious or faith-based settings.
All proper medical and psychoanalytic practitioners have a duty to act in the best interests of the patient to assist them and, in the case of a child or young person, their parents, in making scientifically informed, evidence-based decisions about their own personal development. “Conversion therapy” takes this autonomy away from an individual – very often a young person who may be vulnerable. In legislating to ban this practice, we are upholding their rights, and protecting their true selves.
Recent legislation introduced in New Zealand gives an example of good practice and demonstrates how a law can provide clear definitions both of what is covered by "conversion therapy", but also what practices would fall outside that definition.
Fundamentally, we have a duty to act in the best interests of those we serve, particularly the most vulnerable. Having spoken directly to victims of the practice of conversion therapy in Ireland, I have heard from them the harm that is being caused. Our task is to eliminate that harm.
Roderic O'Gorman is Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth