Mike Davidson, CEO of Core Issues Trust and Chairman of the IFTCC, comments on a recent BBC Spotlight report on ‘conversion therapy’ and the work of Core Issues Trust. This article was originally published by Core Issues Trust and has been republished with permission.
LGBT activists are no doubt disappointed because the Government will not allow them to self-identify in their chosen gender, but our concern at Core Issues Trust is that Boris Johnson might offer them a ban on so-called ‘conversion therapy’ as a consolation prize. Therapeutic choice would be the victim of this unnuanced attack on conversation therapies that talk through issues of sexuality with those who experience homosexuality and gender confusion as unwanted. Although such a ban would have no scientific foundation in our view, there can be little doubt that the scientific establishment would support such a policy.
BBC’s one-side investigation of therapies
On 29 September 2020, BBC Northern Ireland broadcast a TV programme in the Spotlight series on the issue of ‘Gay Conversion Therapy’, which could have investigated this question and explored the issues science raises on the matter of human sexuality and helpful interventions for those seeking change.
Disappointingly, the underlying theme of the programme was that a therapy ban was long overdue. The main argument presented was that this is reasonable on the say-so of two campaigning Belfast gay GPs, Dr Gareth Patterson and Dr Gary Adair-Gilliland. A veteran campaigner from the Royal College of Psychiatrists (Professor Michael King), several activists and a gay-affirming psychologist were also featured. The programme’s participants did not fairly represent the range of opinions that might reasonably be expected on this controversial subject. It was in fact advocacy rather than enquiry journalism.
As a participant in the programme, I was grilled at length, arguing the case for all people to have freedom to shape their sexuality as they wished, and to access professional help to do so. Whilst the BBC did interview several people who claimed to have undergone ‘conversion therapy’, no attempt was made to hear from equivalent (in age and professional status) individuals who have benefitted from counselling interventions and who do consider themselves to have left the LGBT lifestyles.
Despite requests from Core Issues Trust, the BBC failed to reduce viewpoint discrimination by interviewing other people whose experience of therapy, was positive. I made it clear to them that there are those who are very willing to speak to journalists who speak positively of their counselling experiences.
By coincidence, one of the two GPs had consented in 2012 to writing about his experience journeying out of homosexuality in a Core Issues Trust publication:
“Over three years later I am a different man,” he wrote. He went on to say, “Certain bodies are lobbying for an end to therapy for men who want to overcome these struggles. How dare they! As a man who has been on the receiving end of help, and a medical professional myself, I say we should give it greater support.”
The programme did not explore how he came to have such a radically different view when now he opposes the support he was given more than 10 years ago, despite three years of strongly affirmed contentment with the outcome.
BBC interviews Professor Michael King
However, BBC Spotlight did broadcast a pre-recorded interview with Professor Michael King, the former leader of the LGBT special interest group within the Royal College of Psychiatrists, whose words were taken as definitive. An inquiry documentary should have noted that Professor King (an openly gay man) has had a vested interest in LGBT matters and is not merely a psychiatrist with an academic and research interest. To have done so would not have detracted from the value of his contribution, but should have alerted the viewer that this academic does have an axe to grind. Who doesn’t?
To avoid viewpoint discrimination, all ideologies need to be discernible in a credible, inquiry documentary. Professor King was in effect presented as a ‘neutral’ researcher, and the full interview with myself and BBC presenter Mandy McAuley also raises doubts about her claim to be ‘neutral’. If this were the first time the omission about Professor King’s personal interest in all of this had not been highlighted, all could be forgiven. But this has been a consistent pattern in the use of King in BBC programmes. His role in such documentaries and news pieces is to represent the unbiased voice of academia and research on LGBT matters. But Michael King is a gay activist, whatever else he is.
In 2007, Professor King made a submission to the Church of England – re-submitted in 2012 to the Church’s Pilling Commission (House of Bishops Working Group on Human Sexuality) – which cited some 19 scientific papers. At some point, the number of scientific publications cited in the submission was reduced to 18. Why the revision? The paper that was dropped said, inconveniently, “We must respect the choices of all who seek to live life in accordance with their own identities; and if there are those who seek to resolve the conflict between sexual orientation and spirituality with conversion therapy, they should not be discouraged. It is their choice ….”.
Professor King’s submission at that time was far from scientific. It said that homosexuality is ‘biological in nature’ and therefore unchangeable, and that there was no substantive evidence that childhood experiences shape a person’s sexuality. Yet only the previous year a major study in Denmark had found the opposite, and today we can say with confidence that the ‘born gay’ idea is dead. Leading psychologist Lisa Diamond says, “It is time to just take the whole idea of sexuality as immutable, the born this way notion, and …put it to rest.”
The Pilling Commission also highlighted the difficulties with the submission that King wrote for the Royal College of Psychiatrists to the Church of England concerning societal homophobia. According to King, “A considerable amount of the instability in gay and lesbian partnerships arises from lack of support within society, the church or the family for such relationships.” Pilling commented (paragraph 211):
“However as the Core Issues submission points out the very paper which the Royal College cites to support its position states: We do not know whether gay male, same sex relationships are less enduring because of something intrinsic to being male or a gay male, the gay male subculture that encourages multiple partners, or a failure of social recognition of their relationships. The ‘social experiment’ that civil unions provide will enable us to disentangle the health and social effects of this complex question.”
Professor King also misreported a controversial study of people who claimed to be moving from gay to straight, saying that only a small minority experienced significant change, whereas the study said it was the majority. The study’s author, Dr Robert Spitzer, when asked about claims that such therapy was inherently harmful, said this was ‘ridiculous’. Professor King has a mantra that ‘there are reports of harm.’ This is disingenuous; there are reports of harm for every therapy.
On the vital issue of suicidal ideation, Professor King claimed that the high level among people identifying as gay or lesbian was due to negative attitudes in society. Pilling commented (in paragraph 207):
“On the other hand Core Issues Trust point out that the three scientific papers referred to by the Royal College of Psychiatrists actually refuse to attribute the cause of mental health issues among gay and lesbian people to societal factors. For example, one paper cited states, ‘It may be that prejudice in society towards gay men and lesbians leads to greater psychological distress … conversely gay men and lesbians may have lifestyles that make them vulnerable to psychological disorder.’”
By extraordinary coincidence, this paper was written by Prof King himself. Simply put, his scientific paper acknowledges two possible causes (society and lifestyle), whereas he omitted the reference to lifestyle in his submission to the Church. In other words, his submission to the Church twisted his own scientific findings to support his ideology.
Also, Professor King himself reported in 2004 that “only a small minority [of psychiatric professionals] believed that current practice denied people distressed by their homosexuality an effective means to change their sexual orientation.” This is the very position held by Core Issues Trust today and denied by the scientific establishment.
Perhaps the most glaring issue in all of this is that although Pilling highlighted the errors of Professor King’s submission to the Church of England, nothing was done about it. No challenge to Professor King is known to have been made, and nothing sent by the Church to the Royal College of Psychiatrists asking for clarification in the light of these clear errors.
There are so many questions that must be put to Professor King. But they were not put to him by BBC Spotlight. His view was treated as authoritative because he is an academic research psychiatrist, and yet it seems science has been set aside in King’s involvement in this area. Professor King has questions to answer; the BBC has failed in its duty to investigate rather than to promote the LGBT cause. Both have failed the wider public interest.
Watch the full interview below:
 This was Dr Douglas Haldeman’s conclusion for his paper: Haldeman, D, 2002. “Gay Rights, Patient Rights: The Implications of Sexual Orientation Conversion Therapy”
You can read the original article on the Core Issues Trust website.