I am proud to present the petition, which has received over 24,300 signatures to date, calling for a ban on so-called conversion therapy in Northern Ireland. I put on record my huge appreciation to all those who signed the petition and, in doing so, showed their compassionate support for the ban. The petition was started by the chair of the Alliance Party LGBT group, Micky Murray, who is a passionate campaigner for improved rights on behalf of all LGBT+ people in Northern Ireland. I am especially privileged to have him as a member of staff. I also put on record my appreciation to the Rainbow Project and TransgenderNI for their work on the issue.
The UK LGBT rights charity Stonewall defines conversion therapy as:
"any form of treatment or psychotherapy which aims to change a person’s sexual orientation or to suppress a person’s gender identity."
The practice is based on the repugnant belief that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people have a mental illness that can be cured. Let us be clear that a person's sexual orientation or gender identity is not something to be ashamed of, something to be denied or something to be hidden. It is certainly not something to be cured.
Conversion therapy is a cruel, homophobic practice that exists only to erase the LGBT+ community and its culture from existence. It has no place in Northern Ireland or any other tolerant society. The practice's detrimental effects are evidenced in the 2018 faith and sexuality survey conducted by the Ozanne Foundation, which found that more than half of those who had tried to change their sexual orientation reported mental health issues as a result. Furthermore, the UN independent expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity recognises that the practice may constitute a form of torture, depending on the severity of the therapy and the impact on the individual. He has called for a global ban on conversion therapy.
The petition calls for the introduction of legislation to ban conversion therapy, but it must be robust and fit for purpose. It would be heartening if the Communities Minister, on behalf of the Executive, were to proceed with haste on the issue and send a message that attitudes in Northern Ireland have moved on.
No one should be encouraged to deny their sexual orientation or gender identity. Our citizens should have the freedom to be themselves without undue influence.
The Commission is made up of five parties. Its members work very hard to reach agreement on a wide range of issues. I commend my office's officials for assisting the parties in reaching an agreement recently on the centenary, for example, and other matters. I defend the right of Commission members to agree or disagree, but I affirm to the House that they work hard, despite their political differences, to reach agreement on a wide range of matters. I will not have them insulted in the Chamber. I am not raising any more discussion on the issue. I have made my point.