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coercive conversion Derry activist leading UK campaign against conversion therapy says ban must include churches

LGBTQ+ rights activist on the campaign against conversion therapy and how attitudes will shift in Northern Ireland

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Matthew Hyndman had to walk away from the life he knew when he came out

Matthew Hyndman had to walk away from the life he knew when he came out

Matthew Hyndman had to walk away from the life he knew when he came out

A Derry activist who's leading the UK campaign against conversion therapy says churches must be included in a ban.

Matthew Hyndman, a former Christian missionary had to walk away from the life he knew when he came out six years and was told to publicly repent and undergo therapy.

He refused and says now his disastrous coming out, when he accidentally shared a three-month WhatsApp conversation about being gay with 100 people in his congregation, was the best thing that ever happened to him.

The Evangelical Alliance claims a ban could curb religious freedom.

"Most people who have experienced conversion therapy have experienced it at the hands of their religious leader, who is the centre of their community," says Matthew.

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Matthew Hyndman says churches should be included in ban on gay 'conversion therapy'

Matthew Hyndman says churches should be included in ban on gay 'conversion therapy'

Matthew Hyndman says churches should be included in ban on gay 'conversion therapy'

Boris Johnston made a pledge last year to outlaw the practice, the Irish Government is in the process of banning it, and Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey made a commitment in an Assembly debate in April to outlaw conversion therapy.

The spotlight has been turned on the harm caused by the controversial therapy with a new Netflix documentary released last week, Pray Away, from Glee and Lone Star producer Ryan Murphy. ­Magician Derren Brown has talked about attending a ­Christian conversion therapy session before realising it was the wrong path for him.

The harmful practice can include anything from talking therapy to prolonged fasting, treatment with cleansing substances, and in extreme cases rape, but campaigner Matthew says they are all harmful.

A government survey found 7% of LGBT+ people have been offered or undergone conversion therapy and the number doubles among the trans community, but he says the real figures are probably higher.

"The media focuses on the more extreme examples, which are already illegal," he says.


"The tamer versions, which can seem like you are just talking to someone, are the most common and cause just as much pain and suffering.

"There are practices like group therapy and talking therapy which try to pinpoint the moment that made that person gay, like the lack of a father figure or being too close to your mother, and then try to come up with a mechanism to fix it.

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"Some men have been told to cease all contact with any of their female family members.

A public consultation is due to start in England and Wales in September and he says it's ­disappointing the government feels the need to sound out public opinion about the ­hugely damaging therapy. The 31-year-old activist fears it will open the floodgates for hate speech against the LGBT+ community.

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Matthew walked away from his past life and didn't look back

Matthew walked away from his past life and didn't look back

Matthew walked away from his past life and didn't look back

"We don't need a consultation to say LGBT people should not be subjected to this awful practice," he says.

Matthew insists that any new laws must protect trans people and can't be restricted to the under-18s, but it should also allow for people to seek legitimate therapy if they are struggling with their sexuality.

The campaigner also says that all forms of the practice involve ­coercion because people know if they refuse, they risk being cast out of their community.

"There are people who think this is something they should do, and that they are not coerced but I think it's all coercive.

"Behind the scenes of that ­person making that decision is the knowledge that if they don't, they will not be accepted any more and they will leave their whole life behind them.

"They feel they have to ­conform. They have to bury and suppress who they are," says the ­campaigner.

"It's all intertwined. It's not just your family, it's your community and your social circle. How can people possibly fathom leaving behind their entire support ­network?

"I'm quite a strong persona and I was able to walk away. I wasn't welcome. It was also the best thing that ever happened to me.

"There are men and women who have experienced conversion therapy and got married to a man or a woman who are still living under that. They are gay and they are not happy, and they are trapped."

He's paid tribute to his family in Co Derry who now fully support him and says changes in social attitudes in Northern Ireland will demand a conversion therapy ban. Matthew, who works for a creative agency, now lives in London with his partner.

"In Northern Ireland there are definitely people who are viciously digging in their heels to prevent a more accepting way of life," he says.

"But with social media Northern Ireland is opening up to the world and that is going to have a trickle-down effect. I think the stones are being laid for change," says Matthew.

roisin.gorman@sundayworld.com

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