Humanists UK calls for ban on gay conversion therapy around the world at UN Human Rights Council

18 June, 2018

Humanists UK representative David Harvey (left) speaking at the UNHRC in Geneva

Homophobic attitudes must be challenged in order to successfully ban so-called ‘gay conversion therapies’ around the world, Humanists UK told the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) this morning.

Representing Humanists UK at the 38th session of the UN Human Rights Council, Dr David Harvey welcomed a UN recommendation that member states ban procedures claiming to ‘cure’ homosexuality, but argued that legislation will only change if discriminatory cultural attitudes towards gay people are challenged. In his intervention, Dr Harvey further stated that gay conversion therapies cause psychological and physical harm to people who are already particularly vulnerable to abuse.

Whilst homosexuality was officially declassified as a mental illness in 1990 by the World Health Organisation, homophobic attitudes remain. A 2015 survey by the LGBT charity Stonewall found that 10% of health and social care staff in the UK have witnessed a colleague express the belief that homosexuality can be cured; this figure rises to 22% in London specifically. Furthermore, whilst professional mental healthcare bodies such as the British Psychological Society have stated that conversion therapies have the potential to cause harm, a 2009 study showed that more than 200 therapists have engaged in trying to cure people of their homosexuality.

Humanists UK argues that the religious beliefs underpinning many of these homophobic treatments must also be challenged. Such religious beliefs are currently not subjected to sufficient scrutiny, which means that religious leaders are able to continue to practise such procedures even in states where these procedures are banned in healthcare contexts. Dr Harvey’s statement notes:

‘In America a significant proportion of the 700,000 people who have been victims of gay conversion therapy received their therapy from “religious or spiritual advisors”. Concerningly, of the nine US states and the UK where gay conversion therapy is now illegal in healthcare settings, none prevent religious or spiritual advisors from practicing it. Of all the privileges that religious groups are afforded around the world, special freedom to psychologically abuse vulnerable young men and women is perhaps the most perverse.’

Humanists UK believes that religious beliefs must not be privileged over equality for LGBT people, and has called on gay conversion therapies to be banned by all UN member states.


For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Jay Harman on or 0207 324 3078.

Read Humanists UK’s full intervention:

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.

The portrait of gay conversion therapy varies around the world and within certain jurisdictions, but in recent years many more countries have sought to end the abusive practice. It is banned outright throughout Brazil, Switzerland, Taiwan, Ecuador, and Malta, as well as in the Australian state of Victoria, two Spanish autonomies, 13 US states (plus DC and various US cities), and two Canadian provinces (plus Vancouver). A Sinn Féin bill to ban the practice is currently moving through the Irish Parliament. It remains legal in every part of the United Kingdom.