Philip Hensher: Do you think people can be 'cured' of their sexuality through prayer? Get over it!

 

Share
Related Topics

Stonewall's awareness-raising campaign has been running for a few years now. It states, in bold letters, "Some people are gay. Get over it". That's easy to say: persuading people into a position of tolerance, or not caring either way, might take a little longer.

A Christian organisation, the Core Issues Trust, submitted an advert in exactly the same style to be displayed on the sides of London buses. Their advert read: "Not gay! Ex-gay, post-gay and proud! Get over it!" When the Mayor of London became aware of this promotion of the Christian "cure" for homosexuality, he instructed that the adverts be refused, saying that they had no place in a tolerant London.

The idea that anyone can be "cured" of their sexuality through prayer or psychiatric treatment is thoroughly discredited. Two years ago, the journalist Patrick Strudwick investigated the practice of Christian psychotherapists by putting himself in their hands. One, Lesley Pilkington, who advised him that his homosexuality could be traced back to having freemasons in the family, was subsequently criticised as "reckless" and "unprofessional" by her professional association.

Nobody has ever demonstrated a course of treatment which could consistently "cure" homosexuality, even if you regarded it as something which needed "curing". Even Christian groups promoting an ex-gay lifestyle rarely go beyond saying that they can help people to live with their unacted feelings in a pseudo-heterosexual relationship – or, if you prefer, they can push people back into the closet.

So at the first hurdle of advertising, of the truthful claim, this advertising campaign falls, just as an advert would which read "Eat more lard, and cure your cancer". But these adverts are not really aimed at people seeking a cure for themselves. They are aimed at naive parents who believe that they can do something about their gay teenagers.

In 2005, a Memphis 16-year-old, Zachary Stark, was forcibly enrolled by his parents in a gay-conversion camp, Refuge, run by an organisation called Love in Action. The summer camp was so strictly anti-gay that it was forbidden to wear clothes by Abercrombie & Fitch there. Needless to say, none of it worked.

If psychiatric treatment for homosexuality were just a sort of mental-health homeopathy, none of this would particularly matter. We could say this: well, it's not going to turn you heterosexual, but it's probably not going to make you any more gay than you are already, so it hardly matters. But the thing which it will do is frighten some potentially vulnerable people. It will tell people that one of the most fundamental and unalterable parts of their being is wrong and evil. And it will suggest that violent change can be imposed by others in the name of religion. It was not so many months ago that a child was beaten to death in London by his uncle, trying to effect an exorcism.

Stonewall's slogan is a message of hope and tolerance. The Core Issues Trust slogan is, without directly intending it, a message to people who might pray, beat, whip and shout at innocents in their futile endeavours: a message, in the end, of hatred. The Mayor was right to ban it.

A story with no obvious moral

It's welcome news that the Health and Safety Executive has set up a "mythbusters" panel. If you have been told that something can't be done because of "health and safety legislation", you may now submit the judgement to the panel, which will test the argument, and let you know whether the claim has any basis.

Unfortunately, the Daily Mail, which loves absurd tales of what it calls Elf and Safety, promptly illustrated the absurdity with a story yesterday of 25 firemen refusing to enter a three-foot pond to rescue an apparently drowning seagull.

The Beachcomberesque elements of this story made it difficult to see Elf and Safety as the villain. Was it the best use of the firemen's time? Is it their job to rescue one of these savage birds, probably choking on a small child's chips? If the existence of the "mythbusters" panel encourages firemen to say "It's not Elf and Safety – I'm just not going to waste my time rescuing seagulls from Carshalton pond", then it will be a quango worth having.

The only novelist in the village?

Miss Read died! How could Miss Read die? It would be like Aesop dying, or Betty Crocker, or Francis Gay of the Friendship Books. She was your granny's favourite novelist, telling harmless mid-list tales of village life that made James Herriot look like The Wire. Dora Saint, the woman behind Miss Read, took Jane Austen's motto that two or three families in a country village were the very thing to work upon, and made a career out of it.

People seem to be complaining nowadays that the English novel is too timid, or uninterested in contemporary realities. Actually, I never seem to pick up an English novel which isn't talking about war, or mental illness, or social disparities in a small setting, or money, or crime.

What the English novel needs more of is Miss Read-like tales of small communities. So it's nice to hear that J K Rowling in her first novel for adults, is going to write about an idyllic small town riven by petty divisions. Some of the very best English novels are, really, about passions revealed through nothing very much. From time to time, every English novelist is going to feel like picking up Miss Read's baton, and writing about parish councils and the village hydrangea competition.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Service Desk Analyst- Desktop Support, Helpdesk, ITIL

£20000 - £27000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Service Desk Analyst - (Active Directory, Support, London)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst - (Active Di...

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Learning, SQL, VBA)

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letters: The West flounders in the Middle East morass

Independent Voices
David Tennant as Hamlet  

To vote no or not to vote no, that is the question... Although do celebrities really have the answer?

David Lister
All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition