Carys Moseley comments on the Ozanne Foundation’s Cooper Report, which recommends surveillance on so-called ‘conversion therapy’ practices.
The government should arrange for ‘intelligence gathering’, ie. spying on ‘repeat offenders’ of ‘conversion practices’ (aka ‘conversion therapy’). This is what the Ozanne Foundation recommends in its Cooper Report, published on 1 October.
Targeting ‘conversion practices’
The Cooper Report defines ‘conversion practices’ as “attempts to suppress, ‘cure’ or change sexual orientation or gender identity.” It calls on the UK government to ban ‘conversion practices’ without delay. The authors prefer the term ‘conversion practices’, which is used in the criminal law passed in Malta in 2016. The switch in terminology means that Christian ministry broadly conceived is being targeted.
Appendix 1 of the report provides ‘definition illustrations’ of supposed scenarios of ‘suppression’, ‘cure’ and ‘change’. The illustration for ‘suppression’ is a teenage girl who experiences same-sex attraction. The pastor is said to offer to pray for her and to pray “that she will have the strength to not ever act on her feelings.” This is the criminalisation of prayer for the exercise of virtues such as chastity and self-control.
Criminalising prayer and exorcism
The Cooper Report demands that the UK government should criminalise prayer and exorcism. It says that “exempting prayer … would lead to a significant loophole that would be open to abuse.” Regarding compliance with the European Convention on Human Rights, the authors say this:
“It is worth noting that even so-called non-coercive forms of conversion practices such as talking therapy or ‘healing’ prayer, which are seen by some as ‘soft’ forms of conversion practices, still amount to degrading treatment due to the actual harm or the real risk of grave psychological harm to which they expose their victims.”
The report assumes, without evidence, that prayer inflicts ‘physical and psychological harm’, shame, internalised self-hatred and mental health problems. However, prayer that has ‘no predetermined purpose’ should not be banned. In other words, the link between prayer and beliefs about the authority of God is to be severed by the state. This fundamentally redefines prayer.
The report also demands criminalisation of exorcism when “conducted as a form of conversion practice.” The problem is that exorcism is not aimed directly at a human being. Typically, an exorcist addresses purported evil spirits in the name of Jesus Christ, commanding them to leave those persons believed to be possessed or oppressed. This was always what Jesus himself is recorded to have done.
Spying on Christian pastors’ and workers’ homes
The Cooper Report effectively calls for state surveillance of the homes of faithful Christian pastors, leaders, counsellors and therapists. This comes in the section entitled ‘Reporting & Whistleblowing’ – a piece of extraordinary Orwellian doublespeak. It calls for “an effective method of reporting” ‘conversion practices’:
“Due to a significant amount of abuse being perpetrated in private residences, rather than in public or religious buildings, the Forum believes that an effective method of reporting will be essential in uncovering abuse. It will also be important to identify and react to any attempt to veil conversion practices to avoid scrutiny, as they are likely to be carried out in a covert manner following the introduction of a ban.”
This is interesting because three years ago I warned that a ‘conversion therapy’ ban would require the government spying on people’s homes given that pastors and counsellors often work from home.
State surveillance of ‘repeat offenders’
The Ozanne Foundation wants the government to spy on ‘repeat offenders’:
“The Forum recommends that intelligence gathering and tracking systems be developed to identify repeat offenders who continue to promote and undertake conversion practices in order to bring them to the attention of the relevant authorities.”
This means two things: getting other people to spy on counsellors, psychotherapists and religious leaders, and organising technological methods of surveillance to facilitate spying on them. In reality the ‘Spycops’ bill (now law) allowing undercover agents to commit crimes for reasons of state could be used to aid a ‘conversion therapy’ ban.
Journalists’ infiltration as a precedent
There is a well-attested precedent for all this spying of course, namely undercover infiltration of ex-gay ministries by LGBT activists working as journalists. Each time the aim has been to record words said by therapists that could be used to accuse them of prejudice and ‘hatred’ against gay, lesbian or bisexual people, or of ‘harming’ their ‘clients’. These journalists are Patrick Strudwick, unnamed ITV journalists, Josh Parry, Julie Bindel, and Emily Sargent.
These journalists’ stories have been cited by Elliot Colburn MP and cited in the report as ‘evidence’ of the ‘harm’ of ‘conversion practices’. The Ozanne Foundation’s demand for Protection Orders for ‘victims of conversion practices’ surely therefore begs the question, who exactly are these for? Will Protection Orders merely protect government spies to prevent another Spycops scandal?
Denial of consent and free will
Section VII of the Cooper Report is entitled ‘The Ability to Consent’. It denies that adults, let alone children, can truly consent to ministry based on orthodox Christian teaching on sexuality and gender. The report makes the following claims:
“It is not possible to consent to conversion practices in a free and informed manner.”
“It should be no defence that the victims appeared to have consented.”
“The motives of individuals seeking out such practices lie in stigmatisation, social pressure and the historic oppression of LGBT+ identities.”
There is no evidence for such a generalisation about clients or participants in ministries or church activities. In fact, many people are motivated by their belief that God created us male and female, that this is good, and their desire to be married to a member of the opposite sex. The fact that this goes unmentioned is significant.
Ozanne’s admission of free choice before Parliament
The imputation to ‘victims’ that they are motivated by ‘social pressure’ treats all participants in Christian ministry and church activities as passive victims. Nevertheless only a few months ago, May to be precise, Jayne Ozanne told the Women and Equalities Committee of the House of Commons that she and most others had chosen ‘willingly’ to go through ‘conversion therapy’. In response to Bell Ribeiro-Addy MP she said this:
“Far more importantly, the vast majority of people, like me, chose willingly to go through this.”
She admits that they were ‘not coerced’ and did it ‘because we truly believed it was the right thing to do’. So why now is the Ozanne Foundation now claiming nobody can consent to ‘conversion therapy’?
Co-opting the argument about consent
Jayne Ozanne was giving oral evidence at a one-off session the committee had organized with former members of the UK government’s LGBT Panel. The definition of consent was not raised during that session. The Cooper Report’s subsequent discussion of it needs to be understood in the context of ongoing debates about consenting to gender reassignment treatment. This is especially because the Cooper Report wants to criminalise ministry or therapy that doesn’t affirm transgender identity.
Lawyers acting for Keira Bell and others argued in the High Court that it was not truly possible for minors to consent because they could not truly understand the potential negative effects of puberty blockers. However, the High Court judgment was recently overturned at the Court of Appeal due to a legal challenge brought by a coalition including the Tavistock, Mermaids and Stonewall. Mermaids and Stonewall are signatories to the Cooper Report. The Cooper Report draws attention away from the challenge to the Tavistock by turning the gender-critical argument on its head and applying it to talking therapy and religious ministry.
Anticipating international disputes
It is interesting that the case against the Tavistock as well as its appeal attracted third parties from abroad. It is a case with real international significance. The Cooper Report’s approach to the international arena is important to note carefully. It claims (without citing evidence) that people are being abducted to other countries:
“There is increasing evidence that many individuals are forcibly taken abroad to undergo extreme forms of conversion practices.”
This baseless claim is followed by scaremongering and on that basis the Cooper Report demands a travel ban on those deemed to be taking people abroad to ‘undergo conversion practices’:
“This is likely to increase after a ban is introduced in the UK unless specific protections are included. Legislation must therefore include a provision that classifies such attempts as abduction, and outlaws any attempt to take someone out of the jurisdiction to undergo such practices.”
The truth is that numerous laws proposing to ban ‘conversion therapy’ have clauses prohibiting people from taking others out of the country to receive ‘conversion therapy’. For example this kind of clause is found in the law recently passed in Victoria, Australia and the one passed in Australian Capital Territory. It is an international LGBT strategy, not simply a proposal reacting to real events. It would however likely have real-world implications.
Potential for disputes over children
One possibility here is that such proposals are aimed at parents taking their children to another jurisdiction to receive talking therapy. This would be a real possibility if their country only allowed therapy affirming transgender identity, along with puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones. However, we must be on our guard for a wider application of clauses that could cover such a possibility.
Given that the Cooper Report is demanding a total ban on ‘LGBT conversion therapy’ for adults and children, we must see this as anticipating some parents deciding to emigrate to other countries altogether to escape the clutches of gender identity clinics and their supporters in social services. Such a situation could be intensified if the parents separate or divorce during this time and a child custody battle ensues as one parent goes abroad with a child.
No room for complacency
The Cooper Report is not just another report and was not written merely for the sake of writing. The reality is that criminal bans are in place in other jurisdictions, and this does effectively allow the state to put ex-LGBT ministries under surveillance. Jayne Ozanne has been the most outspoken of the government’s independent advisers on its LGBT Panel over the last three years. She has led the campaign for a ‘conversion therapy’ ban, especially from the religious angle. It was she who influenced the Church of England into supporting a ban. She has had an audience with Pope Francis. To scoff at this report’s demands is to underestimate how problematic the current situation really is.
Things don’t stop there. The Cooper Report has a preface by Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, a high-profile human rights lawyer. Baroness Kennedy has recently been appointed to work for the Scottish Government on the question of whether and how to criminalize misogyny in Scotland. This was in light of the debates over the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act. Kennedy is a proponent of the view that ‘trans women are women’. The Cooper Report has been signed by numerous distinguished legal academics who teach in UK universities on the relationship between law and religion. It is supported by Stonewall, which despite some strong criticisms recently it still has a lot of supporters inside government. The demands of such a report may not all be implemented by the government, but some might be depending on which policy agendas are being played out. There is no room for complacency.