Patrick Strudwick’s groundbreaking reporting for the Independent helped lift the lid on the dubious practices of ‘therapists’ who claim to be able to ‘cure’ gay people of their homosexuality.
This week, the journalist visited Belfast to deliver the annual Amnesty International lecture as part of the city’s Pride festival – a fascinating insight into his work and recent developments in the field of reparative therapies around the world.
Strudwick is a great story-teller and his accounts of the techniques used by various practitioners in a vain attempt to turn him straight are at times hilarious. However, as he emphasises, what seems comically farcical when tried on an undercover reporter with no interest in changing his sexual orientation could be a lot less amusing if the patient – paying up to £150 per hour – genuinely wishes to achieve the impossible and become an ‘ex-gay’.
In his optimistic moments, Strudwick makes a strong case that the tide may be turning against ‘reparative therapies’ in many western countries, with closer scrutiny by professional bodies in the UK (largely thanks to his own efforts), a ban on the use of health insurance to cover such treatments in the Netherlands and former supporters of the practice in the United States now questioning its efficacy.
On the other hand, we hear accounts of state-sanctioned reparative therapy and censorship in Malaysia, a reminder of recent attempts to introduce capital punishment for homosexual ‘offences’ in Uganda and reports of ‘corrective rape’ and murder of lesbians in South Africa, despite a constitutional guarantee of equality.
And lest we think homophobia is a developing world problem, Strudwick reminds those present of the imperial origins of many anti-gay laws around the world and stresses that there is work to be done in the west while American judges advocate the admission of lesbians to the armed forces so they can be ‘cured’ by their fellow soldiers and exorcisms of homosexuals continue to be reported in the UK.
Having taken part in demonstrations outside conferences promoting reparative therapies in Belfast, I am certainly all too aware that there are still those in my own city who see homosexuality as a disorder. For anyone in doubt, an audience member’s report of his parents’ reaction to the news that he was to enter a civil partnership provides an all too vivid example of the kind of prejudice that may cause some vulnerable gay people to conclude that they need ‘treatment’.
Belfast Pride continues all week (programme here). Green Party leader Steven Agnew MLA will be on the panel for ‘Pride Talks Back’ this evening (31 July) and Greens will be out in force for the annual Pride Parade on Saturday (August 4).
Interested in a Green take on gay issues? Check out the Queering Green Theory blog…