Tonight, Europa Hotel played host to the annual Belfast Pride Amnesty International lecture, as part of Pride Week. I was at the event and, for those of you unlucky to miss it, I thought I’d take some notes and write up the meat of the discussion, and my two pennies on the issues raised. It’s also the first time in a while that I’ve thought back to my own difficult period, one I rarely talk about from when I was around 14 and 15, where I was involved briefly online with such a ‘cure’ support network.
Please note that, whilst I tried my best to note what was said, I cannot guarantee any of my quotes of Patrick are entirely verbatim. I hope, however, that I caught the gist of it!
A bit of background; Patrick Strudwick is an award-winning journalist, a significant amount of his accolades coming as a result of his exposé on psychotherapists. Amongst others, he has written for Gay Times, as well as the Guardian, Times, Independent and others. It was whilst working for the Independent that he published “The Ex-Gay Files: The Bizarre World of Gay-to-Straight Conversion” which is where this lecture basically takes off from. Thanks to his efforts, the British Medical Association condemned attempts by psychotherapists to change anyone’s sexual orientation, as well as raising flags that instances of NHS paying for these treatments on the taxpayer should be investigated.
His work centred around two “stings” on prominent psychotherapists Paul Miller and Lesley Pilkington, resulting in wide-spread criticism of these and similar psychotherapists, and has prompted conversations within government on whether “gay cure” therapy is valid, and whether it should be allowed at all. It has also seen him under some criticism for his role in so-called ‘entrapment’, and has even been accused by the Church of England, in their newsletter, of being a Nazi!
After a brief introduction, Patrick got right to it, describing how exactly this all came to be. It was a simple situation, he found out about a conference being held in London on the subject of reparative therapy, and talked with his editor about going along undercover to see what was said. He described being “astounded by the ‘hate’ on display”, noting with a little emotion how the sight of a young man being ‘treated’ in front of a live audience is not an experience he will ever forget. Having had some experience, once upon a time during my own troubled days as a young teen, with an email group called People Can Change, I can only imagine how that went, and sympathise with the young man. As Patrick noted himself, LGBT people are not “broken” or defective – the LGBT community has been through so much but is so strong and filled with such nice people, scarred sure, but so special.
He took it upon himself to dig a bit deeper, and asked one therapist, a Dr. Paul Miller, if the good doc could offer him some help with his own ‘same sex attraction’, as well as asking him about other therapists that might help (to which he was also pointed to Lesley Pilkington). Both separately agreed to treat him, and he began treatments in parallel, undercover. Lesley will come later, but Paul was who he talked about initially.
Dr Paul Miller is, by the way, Iris Robinson’s ‘lovely psychiatrist‘. With Paul living in Belfast and Patrick in London it was decided to do the sessions via Skype. Patrick describes the general process;
“They started what I call a “wound hunt”, a cause for the homosexuality. All the usual causes, was I bullied? Nope. Was I abused? No. I was lucky, I grew up in quite a liberal family, one quite modern on views on gender roles. Paul was a bit at a loss. Finally, Paul discovered my father was a physicist and since I am quite an artistic person, he decided that we didn’t bond properly because of the contrast with my Dad’s analytical approach to things, and as a result I had ‘sexualised’ the desire for the bonding.”
Miller described the attraction to men as cannibalistic – basically that “you have sex with a person who has something that you want”, in this case, male attributes, male affirmation and bonding. The idea is very common among the cure lobby (I can attest this was the case from my experience), but I would generally describe it now in my opinion as a pseudoscience. Interestingly, Patrick discussed that, during their sessions, Paul Miller admitted that he still masturbates over gay porn, despite assuring Patrick that he was himself cured using these methods. His other advice to Patrick was to get regular ‘male massages’, in an attempt to get ‘healthy’ male contact (I don’t quite understand how getting massages from a hot guy is somehow healthy male contact, as I wasn’t aware this was a common hetero-guy thing!), as well as being naked in front of a mirror, touching himself and affirming himself of his own masculinity. When done via Skype, it’s all a little creepy really.
It gets worse, after Patrick told him in a later session that his experiences with the mirror and masseuse were causing him to become aroused, he was told to “close your eyes and focus as I talk to you… ” whereupon Paul began to describe Patrick ‘s body, all the reasons it is attractive, as well as asking how Patrick feels about what he is saying. I mean, I get in context what Paul is doing fits with his idea of the treatment, but if it were some guy adding you on Skype, MSN or whatever and complimenting your body, talking about whether that gets you aroused…
Patrick lodges a complaint to the GMC; they commissioned a consultant psychiatrist who somehow concluded that conversion therapy is no better or worse than any form of therapy, as the evidence is just as good for it as other common therapies. Fortunately, Paul is now heavily sanctioned by his body – he how has to have a supervisor in all his sessions!
“Was I a difficult birth? I thought all births were!” – Patrick Strudwick
As I said, in parallel to Paul Miller, he was being seen, this time in person, by Lesley Pilkington; again, a wound hunt, was he bullied, abused, this time a bit more insidious; “I think it will be there,” she said. “It will likely be a family member” and that it will have been “repressed”. Very dangerous words from Lesley, reminiscent of stuff I’ve read about false memory syndrome. She prayed to God to ‘bring the memories to the surface’, as well as asking increasingly bizarre questions, any freemasonry in the family (apparently there is a correlation!!!), was he a difficult birth? (Patrick joked – ‘I thought all births were!’). Lesley instructed Patrick to pray every time he had a sexualised feeling about another man, again Patrick joked with the audience – “I don’t have time!” – which got some laughs.
Where the Lesley case got interesting was what I brushed on briefly earlier. She let it slip about her NHS connections, basically a means by which she got her patients to get referred to her by the NHS, thus leading to free treatment for them by her (oh yeah, I haven’t mentioned yet – they charge!). Regardless, after more complaints made, a hearing was scheduled and cancelled, citing apparent panel difficulties; apparently you can’t have people who are too religious nor “too pro-gay”. Patrick noted how silly this position was, comparing it to how if it was a race discussion you’d not try to avoid using people who were ‘too black’, in fact you’d definitely encourage them to be on such a panel!
The story was somehow leaked, despite anonymity involved, and claims were made of witness intimidation by parties close to Patrick. The Daily Mail reported on the “expert defence witness being intimidated”, despite the fact that in the proceedings, no witnesses had been lodged by the defence at all! Even during the ordeal, Lesley made claims that she could “still feel the need from [Patrick] to be cured”. Top tip – she lost, and was struck off from her professional body – her appeal failed this year!
Patrick commented on some of the other good changes on this front in the last while, such as Core Issues – in April Mike Davidson lost his professional standing after the radio show by William Crawley. In London, an advert series on buses was banned from showing their ex-gay posters. Adam Chambers – prominent in the organisation Exodus International – admitted recently that conversion therapy “doesn’t work in 99% of cases”. In fact, this resulted in a public spat on Facebook with Joseph Nicolosi, who stated words to the effect of “I never said I could cure someone; the attractions will persist in some manner for the remainder of their life”. A commonly cited researcher, Dr. Robert Spitzer (see? I was involved with these jokers!), apologises to the gay community for saying his research led people to believe same sex attraction was a condition to be cured, admitting that the work was flawed (which is clear from the get go, it was not initially peer-reviewed, and when it eventually got published, two-thirds of the reviews were critical of the paper). This makes it all the more ridiculous that organisations still cite his work! Bans and restrictions are happening for this kind of treatment these days – USA, Holland, age bans and health care coverage bans. Even the Omagh Council supporting marriage equality!
Patrick took some time to go onto the really dangerous world of gay cures, with such troubling practices as corrective rape, and religious exorcism. He highlighted that, whilst things are getting much better here, places like Malaysia have recently announced funding for curative methods of correction of SSA, with such statements as ‘curb this negative phenomenon’, or sending 50+ boys to gay cure camp to learn masculinity. In many cases, the choice is ‘jail or treatment’.
In South Africa, a 13-year-old girl was correctively raped for being out. Similarly in Jamaica – women who were repeatedly followed from village to village. This is absolutely abhorrent, and only made worse when a (of course male) US judge make stupid statements such as this, about allowing lesbians in the military – ‘giving straight male GIs a fair shot at converting lesbians and bringing them into the mainstream’. I mean, holy crazy-judges, Batman! That’s just mental!
How about at-home exorcism; kits and guides to how to ‘pray the gay away’?
So what keeps Patrick going? Meeting the victims, seeing the damage it has done, seeing self-harm scars, ‘psychological torture’ of those who have been through this. Powerful stuff.
His closing statement; We will never escape prejudice if the idea of choice still exists. That leaves us no better than a criminal who chooses to commit a crime.
The following is my notes on the Q&A session, again I tried my best to be accurate, paraphrasing but preserving what I can, and to see who asked, but I’m afraid I don’t know everyone who spoke!
William Crawley: “A freedom question – don’t they [the therapists] have the right to try, for those who aren’t happy being gay?”
Patrick Strudwick: “No, because it doesn’t work, and because it harms. It is right to help, but not with trying to turn them! For people struggling with accepting their orientation, you can work throught that issue, but not with the idea of a cure. If someone went to a doctor because they were black, saying they were unhappy being black and wanted skin bleaching treatments it would be clearly morally wrong to do so. They should follow the Hippocratic oath; and given that majority of those going through it are left psychologically worse off, it isn’t in the best interests of the patient. Conversion therapy breaks the entire process of good psychotherapy, as the therapist is imposing their values onto the patient. It’s worth noting that Joseph Nicolosi claims not to be religious but in fact is, and the majority, if not all, of this therapy is religious in nature.”
William Crawley: “What effect has it had on you personally?”
Patrick Strudwick: “This isn’t about ‘me’, but I thought due to my liberal upbringing I would be impervious. But my enquiring nature means the ideas got in, and the messages started to ‘whir around his head’. Caught me off guard. I think to myself ‘Imagine the effect on someone extremely vulnerable?'”
William Crawley: “There are claims often made that this is entrapment?”
Patrick Strudwick: “No, don’t misunderstand. ‘To lure someone into doing something they wouldn’t otherwise do’ is entrapment. It was very clear that, for these therapists, this is what they WOULD always do. The GMC reports of 1 in 6 therapists on their books that have tried or considered trying some form of this therapy. Given that, their reluctance to pursue the case might be a matter of ‘if we axe this guy, where does it end?'”
John O’ Doherty: “Were you ever asked to give money?”
Patrick Strudwick: “They don’t do it for free, I had to pay for it. When I first ‘hooked up’ with Paul Miller, the cost was quoted as approximately £150 per hour. When I told him I was an aspiring psychology student, his rate became £30 per hour. It’s a business, less so in UK, but in the US, it is very much about money. Consider particularly the African states, often offering up “the gays” as a scapegoat results in a very attractive proposition for governments and communities.”
Theresa Cullen: “Although its important to talk about third-world cases, we can’t ignore that things like corrective rape are happening closer to home.”
Patrick Strudwick: “High sexualisation of lesbians has happened amongst straight men due largely to porn, where the girls are typically joined by a man later – it gives the notion that lesbians are just ‘waiting for a man to come along and cure them of it’. We should also note the supply-demand loop they create; they claim that gays are unhappy and need treatment, making gays unhappy due to the homophobia in society!”
Unknown: “It isn’t us that need the help here, so how do we shift the focus onto them needing help?”
Patrick Strudwick: “Pathologising them is perhaps unhelpful, the important thing is to keep a positive campaign, saying we aren’t broken, and that all hate is wrong.
William Crawley: “I find it is important to personalise the issue, it’s easy to be homophobic about an abstract concept, but once you have a gay child, friends etc., well we can see what the studies show.”
P.A. MagLochlainn: “Has any connection been shown to the Christian Institute, who have a lot of money, and peddle lies using leaflets and other means?”
Patrick Strudwick: “I don’t know, but there is irrefutable evidence that the American Christian right fund organisations in the UK, they have a fighting fund to fight cases like mine in Europe and internationally. Even some third world pastors have built careers on homophobic rhetoric, because they get the funding that way. Unfortunately, fear pays.”
Unknown: “I feel that, to do a lot of harm, you simply have to be a little intellectually dishonest. Causation vs Correlation [my words] is in a lot of their arguments, particularly about the ideas of experiences that are common to many gays.”
Patrick Strudwick: “Its a way of luring in as a clever trick; questions like “Did you ever feel abandoned?” Well, who hasn’t! “Overbearing mother, distant father?” Again, pick a random person on the street, and they’ll agree! In the same way, horoscopes, cold reading, even religion! If you need something enough, you will find it in what’s said. It’s general enough that something will always apply to everybody. Abuse has been shown to have no effect on sexuality, but admittedly in some cases on, say, your drive for sex. But not sexuality.”
Unknown: “Has any research been done on GPs to guage THEIR prejudices?”
Patrick Strudwick: “Well, I’m not aware, no. GPs tend to not be well trained in psychology issues. I would like to see GPs and even psychologists go through specific LGBT training. Rules need tightened – anyone can currently call themselves a therapist; you don’t have to belong to a body, and even then you can charge for it!”
Fidelma Carolan: “Where do you feel there is a link between legislation and cultural change; will banning the therapy actually stop it?”
Patrick Strudwick: “Well, California has passed this law against performing any such therapy on under-18s. It should not be necessary, psychotherapy should be regulated on this and many other issues, and that would eliminate a lot of the problem.”
Unknown: “What about the ex-gays who say not that you can change, but instead just say you can be abstinent?”
Patrick Strudwick: “As a non-religious person, the idea of abstinence is difficult for me to comprehend. Abstinence means going against your natural instincts. ‘Tolerance of homosexuals but not their practice’ is an awful concept as you are denying many of your own followers real love. It isn’t the role of a therapist to bring someone to such a decision, if someone came to you saying they were being abstinent and wanted to talk about it, sure, help them through the associated issues, but never to recommend it or say that you can help them do it!”
William Crawley: “They see gay is an identity, and say let’s not take on that identity. They say gay does not exist, in the same way as a rapist, you don’t take the identity of a rapist. They view it like an addiction, and say let’s address that. However, some theologians are beginning to come out as pro-gay. I appreciate the off-the-record tradition but it’s happening, even here in Northern Ireland. So don’t talk about sex, talk about love as that is understandable to people, to congregations. It’s easy to dismiss sex, not so easy to dismiss love!”
Unknown: [Recounts a personal story of his religious parents cutting him off upon learning he is due to get married, including discussions with parents around biblical passages] “Gay marriage is not about religion but about love.”
Patrick Strudwick: “Thanks for your story, this is a reminder that it isn’t all ok now, it isn’t easy and fun to be gay. A lot of people go through a hard time. Isn’t it ironic, we are talking about love, and yet many religions reject it! If your god is about love, then what’s the problem? I’m an atheist, but I can’t understand the point of worshipping a god that only accepts certain definitions of love. We must also hold the word gay, as William said, the organisations don’t like the power of that word as they reject the concept, they are terrified of it.”
Gareth Johnston: “It is like a see-saw, and as a tipping point, yes you can take away from the bad side of things, but how do you add to the good side? How do we reinforce the liberal people of faith to influence their churches?”
William Crawley: “Well for a start, and this isn’t a silly point; go to church. In the USA, the statistics show that the more liberal a church, the greater chance of it closing. People (an organisation called Soulforge) actually mobilised to move across the country to the vicinity of the most homophobic church in the USA (next to the Westboro Baptists, at least), and join, and basically infiltrate and change it from within. Even in Northern Ireland, many churches are becoming, off-the-record, much more accepting of gay people. Many priests and leaders have a vested interest in not being public on their true beliefs, and if only they did, they would change the society around it.”
With that, the session was over, and it was only left to Patrick to sum up his thoughts on his message:
“The more people hear it, the happier I am.” – Patrick Strudwick
In closing this write-up, I’d just like to say that I found the entire discussion very interesting, whilst being very familiar with a lot of what was said, from my experience and from media coverage. It was great to hear it directly from the man involved, and I think that he has done a huge service to the LGBT community as well as the psychology community – because in my mind, ditching such dead weight associates can only be a good thing for their organisations!
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