On the 13th of April 2021, a new coalition of young activists from across the political spectrum and island of Ireland was launched. Founded by LGBT+ rights activist and NUI Maynooth student Aaron Grant, the Anti Conversion Therapy Coalition (ACTC) aims to outlaw the practice of conversion therapy on the island of Ireland.
Conversion therapy is any form of treatment proposed to change sexual orientation or to suppress gender identity. The coalition deems these “therapies” to be both unethical and harmful, and describes them as being based on the premise that being gay or transgender is a mental illness that can ‘be cured’.
The list of countries that outlaw conversion therapy is small, with only Brazil, Ecuador, Malta and Germany having full nationwide bans on the practice. There are regional laws in place preventing it in the USA, Spain, Canada and Australia. ACTC wishes to ensure that the governments of Ireland and Northern Ireland place a ban on the practice.
The campaign has drawn support from across the political spectrum in Ireland, attracting members from Fine Gael, Sinn Féin, Fianna Fáil, Labour, the Social Democrats, People Before Profit, the Green Party, Aontú, the SDLP, and the UUP. “We’re coming together to highlight that this unethical practice needs to end in Ireland”, said the Chairperson of the ACTC, Aaron Grant. “This isn’t an ideological issue; it’s about doing what’s right”.
The cross-party group will support the Prohibition of Conversion Therapies Bill 2018, sponsored by Senator Fintan Warfield of Sinn Féin. The bill is due to undergo committee stage soon. The legislation seeks “to prohibit conversion therapy, as a deceptive and harmful act or practice against a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity and, or gender expression”. Warfield’s Bill attracted cross-party support and praise, with the co-signatures of nearly two dozen Senators; including those from Sinn Féin, Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Labour, Green Party, and numerous Independents.
The activists are hoping to continue that spirit with the formation of the coalition. ACTC describe the campaign to outlaw conversion therapy as a “shared struggle, regardless of anyone’s politics”. “Banning conversion therapy is one of the goals of the Programme for Government, and we want to get it over the line", Grant said.
The formation of the coalition has been widely welcomed in Ireland, with a number of high-profile politicians including Malcolm Byrne (FF), Senator Alice Mary Higgins (IND) and Neale Richmond (FG) actively backing the ACTC’s campaign. Minister for Children Roderic O'Gorman (GP) has moved to ban conversion therapy in Ireland and tasked officials with exploring ways to outlaw the practice in the state. O’Gorman said that; “Legislating for a ban on conversion therapy will send a clear and unambiguous message to everyone, both younger and older, that a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression is not up for debate”.
In Northern Ireland, Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey (SF) stated in March that a rush to ban conversion therapy would lead to ineffective laws that would allow the practice to continue. She stated that she would like to bring forward draft legislation immediately, but told MLAs that she had received expert advice to ensure that the laws were watertight. Hargey said she was working with an expert panel to assemble Stormont’s sexual orientation strategy. Minister Hargey said that it was vital to establish the scale of gay conversion therapy in Northern Ireland and to establish the alternative names under which the practice is conducted.
SDLP MPs Colum Eastwood and Claire Hanna signed an Early Day Motion calling for conversion therapy to be made illegal in Northern Ireland. An Early Day Motion is a formal proposal submitted by a Member of the UK Parliament for debate in the House of Commons at the earliest opportunity but at no fixed time. They are usually used to bring attention to a particular subject or area of interest. They also state that their MLAs will support a motion in the Stormont Assembly calling for a ban.
ACTC has made a sizable impact on social media, with the hashtag #BanConversionTherapy trending amongst young activists and politicians alike. They can be found on Twitter and Instagram on @antictcoalition.