Portsmouth councillor refuses to support ban on LGBT conversion therapy

A CONSERVATIVE councillor has come under fire during a debate in which he refused to support banning LGBT conversion therapy.

Thursday, 14th October 2021, 5:39 pm
Updated Tuesday, 19th October 2021, 11:56 am
Matt Atkins at the Portsmouth City Council meeting on October 14, 2021. Picture: PCC

Former Tory opposition leader Matt Atkins told a Portsmouth City Council meeting he ‘did not support’ conversion therapy but did not think it was ‘right to criminalise the behaviour of a marginal group who are doing so in a consenting adult fashion’.

Speaking during a full council motion calling on prime minister Boris Johnson’s government ‘to follow through on its promises’ to ban conversion therapy, he said his concerns were about its scope.

He said: ‘It's uncontroversial the idea that we would ban or prevent any treatment that claims to be medical, anything coercive or anything conducted on children.

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‘The problem is one of definition.

‘Are you telling certain people who have some homosexual attraction – maybe not exclusively – that they have to embrace that lifestyle?

‘Because if you were born religious or become religious then there are difficult passages in most religions for those people.’

During a 2019 council debate Cllr Atkins was one of two Tory councillors who did not vote to support LGBT teaching in Portsmouth schools.

Yesterday he said he feared a ban could criminalise religious support and therapy groups for ‘consenting adults’.

'I think the danger is in trying to reduce judgement in society, and trying to reduce the sort of punitive actions against gay people, you actually increase division,’ he added. ‘We don't want to drive under the carpet people who choose to live out their lives in a way different from how we might understand.’

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However, his comments drew widespread condemnation from his fellow councillors, who voted to support the motion by 37 to one. Cllr Atkins voted against the motion.

Cllr Stuart Brown, who proposed the motion in his maiden speech, said ‘being LGBT+ is not a lifestyle choice’ and that Cllr Atkins was ‘on the wrong side of history’.

And Cllr George Madgwick said Cllr Atkins’ views were ‘wildly unacceptable’.

‘People should be free to do what they want when they want and how they want, without being discriminated against and talked down to,' he said. 'For somebody in this room to sit for six-and-a-half minutes and try and justify opposing this is an absolute outrage.'

The council’s leader, councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson, said the council needed to show ‘leadership’ by supporting the motion and calling on the government to honour its promises to ban the pseudoscientific practice.

Earlier this year, a pledge was made in the Queen's speech to outlaw conversion therapy, although the government has said it will first hold consultations on the matter.

At the beginning of this month, a group of leading human rights lawyers gave their backing to a ban.

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