Christian counsellor challenges politician over conversion therapy 'torture' claims

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The head of a charity that offers counselling to people struggling with unwanted same-sex attraction has hit out at claims of torture in a recent debate in the Northern Ireland Assembly. 

Mike Davidson, CEO of the Core Issues Trust, said his lawyers have been in touch with Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie after he likened counselling offered by the charity to torture. 

Referencing the charity in a debate on conversion therapy on 20 April, Beattie quoted UN independent expert Victor Madrigal-Borloz, who has said that "actions to subject lesbians, gay, bisexual, trans or gender-diverse persons to practices of 'conversion therapy' are by their very nature degrading, inhuman and cruel and create a significant risk of torture."

Beattie told the Assembly, "'A significant risk of torture', 'inhuman', 'cruel': those are words that should shake us all to the core when we think that some of our people here in Northern Ireland — our brothers and our sisters, our sons and our daughters, our teachers, our policeman, our nurses and our doctors — are subjected, or could be subjected, to that. It should shake us all, yet it is happening here in Northern Ireland.

"We have a charity, with charitable status and everything that goes with that status, conducting conversion therapies here in Northern Ireland.

"It is part-funded by the International Federation for Therapeutic and Counselling Choice (IFTCC), which says that witnessing domestic violence or suffering sexual abuse can make you gay. My word. So, if you are subjected to domestic violence or sexual abuse, it can make you gay.

"I have to say to everybody here and to anybody listening that this needs to be stopped, and I will keep saying that. Those are inhumane, cruel practices that are detrimental to people's mental health." 

The debate ended with MLAs voting in support of Beattie's non-binding motion calling for a ban on conversion therapy. 

Commenting on the debate, Davidson, who is ex-gay, accused Beattie of misinforming the Assembly on the nature of the trust's work.

He said the debate had ignored "well-established scientific research" on unwanted same-sex attraction, and the "rights and freedoms of those unwilling to take an LGBTQ identity who seek counselling or pastoral guidance". 

He added that MLAs voting in support of the non-binding motion showed "no evidence of consulting with those most likely to be affected by the proposed legislation". 

He said there had been "ongoing harassment" by "high-ranking politicians who have never sought to consult with any group representing individuals who refuse to take on an LGBTQ identity, who seek pastoral and counselling support for their unwanted feelings". 

Davidson said, "Core Issues Trust, in line with the IFTCC does not offer any 'exotic' therapy but engages in conversations with clients who have often been told that they have no choice in the matter of their sexual desires and that modification of unwanted same-sex behaviours or gender issues is harmful and unnecessary.

"The Trust, together with the IFTCC maintains that individuals, who don't choose to identify as LGBT, should themselves decide the direction of any therapeutic and counselling interventions necessary to maintain their helath and not LGBT activists or politicians who uncritically embrace LGBTQ ideology."