Two journalists who went undercover to expose so-called “gay conversion therapy” helped pave the way for a Government ban on the practice announced in its LGBT action plan yesterday.
Patrick Strudwick, now LGBT editor at Buzzfeed UK, and Josh Parry, a former Liverpool Echo journalist now at the BBC, both exposed themselves to the practice, which aims to change somebody’s sexual orientation.
As far back as November 1999, a journalist went undercover for the Big Issue to attend sessions with a counsellor who claimed to be able to make people “ex-gay”. The piece was commissioned by Adam Macqueen, now at Private Eye, who tweeted: “Good to see the Government move on conversion therapy at last.”
The Government pledged yesterday to consider all legislative and non-legislative options to ban the promotion or provision of so-called gay conversion therapy as part of a 75-point action plan.
It also published the results of the largest ever national survey of LGBT people, which revealed 2 per cent of the 108,000 had undergone conversion therapy and a further 5 per cent had been offered it.
Strudwick (pictured), who is gay, went undercover as a freelance nine years ago to investigate so-called conversion sessions with a psychiatrist and a psychotherapist.
He has said that, despite thinking the treatment would not affect him in his journalistic capacity, he suffered neurological episodes including spasms and uncontrollable contortions in his face as a result.
He said in his original piece that he was left feeling “confused and damaged”.
The story was published in the Independent in early 2010, but only after it was turned down by numerous other national newspapers over the course of six months, Strudwick said.
He made a complaint against the psychiatrist and psychotherapist who treated him, eventually leading to a “domino effect” of action from various charities and bodies after the psychotherapist was struck off from the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy in 2012.
Reacting to the Government announcement, Strudwick said he felt “vindicated” for having reported on the issue.
He told Press Gazette: “I genuinely didn’t believe it at first and part of me is overwhelmed that this is happening and just delighted that the Tories are finally going to do something and that people will be saved from this abuse.
“That is the good thing. I think as a journalist it’s complicated, because this is nine years in the making. I first started investigating nine years ago and I have been reporting, investigating, writing about it on and off ever since.
“It’s a very long journey and I’m very aware that as a journalist along the way I was stonewalled by almost every media outlet in Britain.
“A whole host of newspapers were not interested in publishing my investigation, especially because Fleet Street is full of straight editors who didn’t understand – they didn’t understand why this was important.”
He added: “I feel utterly vindicated as a journalist that my actions – which were as a freelance – paved the way for a Conservative government finally taking action to end this abuse against LGBT people.
“I will not forget how many journalists and editors either turned down the story or attacked me in the years after the story was published.”
Parry, who is now a broadcast journalist and co-host of the Queer Liverpool podcast, won Young Journalist of the Year at the Regional Press Awards 2017 in May for his own undercover reporting on conversion therapies during his time at the Liverpool Echo.
Last year, Parry went to a church in Anfield posing as a member of the public and recorded a pastor telling him that being gay is a “deceit of Satan” and that he should pray and starve himself.
He has previously written that the story will “always be the highlight of my career” and that it was “deeply personal” for him as it prompted him to come out as gay to his own family.
He told Press Gazette: “It’s rare as a journalist that your work can receive such national and international attention, but this proves the importance of good local and regional journalism.
“Before I exposed the practice, Patrick Strudwick led the first investigation into gay conversion therapies in the UK and since then it has come to light several times.
“Over 50 per cent of respondents to the LGBT survey [part of the Government’s LGBT action plan] said their experiences of conversion therapy had been in a religious setting – similar to what I underwent as part of my investigation – and this statistic shows just how prevalent that practice is.
“I hope that today’s announcement means more people can be their true selves and have happier lives.”
Parry’s investigation with the Echo has now been mentioned in Parliament twice, including yesterday when Liverpool MP Dan Carden said he had been “shocked” by the story, describing so-called conversion therapy as “some of the most disturbing practices that could be imagined”.
Minister for Women and Equalities Penny Mordaunt confirmed to the Commons that the Government plans to prohibit the “abhorrent” practice, after some confusion about whether it would carry out a ban.
However Buzzfeed’s Strudwick said he felt his work was not yet over, fearing the Government will have difficulties enacting a ban that encompasses both religious leaders and medical professionals.
He said: “What matters ultimately is that a ban is enacted.
“My concern is that the [route] by which you actually ban it are complicated and I don’t have full confidence that the Government is going to find a way that’s robust enough.”
Strudwick added: “I will be watching very closely, I will be talking to ministers and watching with the Coalition Against Conversion Therapy to do everything I can to ensure that the best solution is enacted.”
Picture (top): Buzzfeed