A former DUP minister has been accused of advocating for LGBTQ+ conversion therapy
Conversion therapy is still legal in NI
The post which has since been deleted from McCausland’s Twitter account, was from a 2019 Gospel Coalition article focusing on Becket Cook, a former Hollywood set designer. The article states that Cook identified as gay until he “met Jesus” in 2009. He has since claimed to have rejected same-sex attraction and has vowed to remain single and celibate for the remainder of his life.
McCausland, a former Minister for Social Development in the Northern Ireland Executive, shared a link to the article on Monday evening (25th January), calling it a “powerful testimony of a life changed by God” and that it offered “important insights into the whole ‘gay movement'”.
The comments from the former North Belfast MLA have been met with backlash from across the political spectrum, with many likening his remarks to advocating for conversion therapy, a highly controversial practice that claims to be able to alter an individual’s sexuality or gender identity and remains legal here in Northern Ireland.
McCausland has responded, saying the article he shared has been “misread or misunderstood” and denying it was about conversion therapy.
Alliance councillor Eóin Tennyson has said labelled the Gospel Coalition article and McCausland’s accompanying comments as “anti-gay nonsense” and stated that “being gay is not a disease, it can’t be cured.”
Meanwhile, South Belfast SDLP councillor Séamas de Faoite has started a petition calling for McCausland to resign from his position on the Northern Ireland Education Authority’s board, saying that conversion therapy is “incompatible with the delivery of education in an inclusive and compassionate Northern Ireland”.
UUP councillor Michael Palmer has described McCausland’s post as “irresponsible”, saying that McCausland’s remarks “puts people off unionism” and going on to state that many other unionists “live in the 21st century”.
Conor Houston, director of LGBTQ+ organisation ShoutOut, has also called for McCausland’s resignation from the EA board, stating that the post was “deeply offensive” and that “compassion & education are the antidote to such ignorance”.
In a national LGBT survey of 108,000 people from the LGBTQ+ community published by the UK Government Equalities Office 2018, 2 per cent of participants report receiving some form of conversion therapy.
Despite an overwhelming majority of therapy organisations, psychiatric associations and the NHS rejecting the legitimacy of conversion therapy and labelling it dangerous following a memorandum of understanding, it remains legal in the UK and is still carried out by some practitioners.
Although the UK government pledged to ban conversion therapy in 2018, the power to outlaw the practice is devolved and is the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Health Minister Robin Swann, Justice Minister Naomi Long and former Communities Minister Carál Ni Chuilín committed to work to end conversion therapy in Northern Ireland in September 2020, with Long highlighting the need to prevent more people from being “damaged by this dangerous practice”.
McCausland’s comments come not even one week after the airing of Russell T. Davies acclaimed Channel 4 drama, ‘It’s A Sin’ which has been praised for an accurate portrayal of LGBTQ+ people and their handling of issues such as the AIDs epidemic in the 80s. The EA board member’s post only serves to demonstrate the need to platform LGBTQ+ voices and to continue to challenge harmful myths about queer identities and lived experiences.
The Belfast Telegraph reported a statement from Mr. McCausland who said: “Councillor Tennyson must have misread or misunderstood the article that I posted as it was not about ‘gay conversion therapy’
“It was a testimony from The Gospel Coalition website and was in the form of an interview about the life-transforming power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
“The person interviewed had not undergone any therapy.”
In a statement, Barry Mulholland, chairperson of the Education Authority Board, said: “Personal comments or social media posts made by any member of the authority cannot be taken as a reflection of the position of the wider Education Authority board”.
“Equality, diversity and inclusion is central to everything Education Authority (EA) do and we are committed to working to support staff, children and young people to overcome the barriers to full inclusion and participation in society and to ensure that all feel welcomed, safe and valued.”
The Belfast Tab contacted the DUP and Mr McCausland for a statement.