LGBT rights: FAQ

LGBT rights: FAQ

A significant proportion of leaders and followers of the main religions in the UK, including Christianity, Islam and Judaism, believe their religion teaches that same-sex relationships are sinful. This inevitably leads to widespread discrimination against LGBT people, particularly those within religious communities. It may also lead to violence, especially as some religious texts advocate corporal or capital punishment for same-sex relationships.

We believe a secular society, in which religious people are neither privileged nor disadvantaged, is the best means of tackling these tensions. While religious people should be allowed to follow homophobic beliefs, those beliefs must not be imposed on anyone. Neither should the state in any way endorse or condone homophobia, including religious homophobia.

Government guidance on relationships and sex education (RSE) indicates schools must teach about LGBT relationships, in order to comply with the Equality Act 2010.

However, the same guidance states faith schools, including those which are state funded, "may teach the distinctive faith perspective on relationships".

Because most major religions teach that same-sex relationships are wrong, this guidance gives faith schools the green light to inculcate homophobic values. A 2018 National Secular Society report found many faith schools, especially Catholic schools, teach that homosexual acts are wrong and that homosexuality itself is "disordered".

There was even a case last year of Catholic schools, at the instruction of their governing diocese, disinviting a gay author to give a book talk to their pupils. The diocese was criticised by the school inspectorate Ofsted for its actions.

There have also been conflicts between religion and LGBT equality in state schools without a religious designation. The RSE guidance says: "In all schools, when teaching [RSE], the religious background of all pupils must be taken into account when planning teaching". Some religious fundamentalists have used this to attack schools which teach about LGBT issues.

Anti-LGBT discrimination is a recurrent problem in independent faith schools. Many, if not most, strictly-orthodox Jewish schools refuse to teach about LGBT issues because of religious views about same-sex relationships. Although they consistently fail school inspections as a result, they are permitted to continue operating regardless. Homophobia has also been an issue at some Islamic independent faith schools.

The government must ensure schools are empowered to teach LGBT-inclusive RSE without intimidation from religious fundamentalists. The role of state-funded faith schools in promoting anti-LGBT attitudes should be examined. The UK government must ensure that independent faith schools are fulfilling their legal requirements regarding the teaching of LGBT issues.

"The advancement of religion" is a recognised charitable purpose in all UK charity laws. This has the effect of allowing religious organisations which exist solely to promote religion to register as charities, and receive significant tax benefits, without serving a tangible, recognisable public benefit.

Because so many religious organisations are opposed to same-sex relationships, this means religious charities are allowed to promote homophobic religious dogma. Because charities receive tax breaks, this can be considered a form of state-sanctioning of homophobia.

When the NSS complained about a charity which posted highly homophobic memes on Facebook to the Scottish charity regulator OSCR in 2022, OSCR refused to act because it concluded the views expressed by the charity "are in accordance with their religious beliefs".

We think organisation that promote homophobia must not be entitled to charitable status.

'Conversion therapy', sometimes known by other names including 'reparative therapy' and 'change orientated therapy', refers to practices which aim to 'convert' people to heterosexuality. Such practices range from prayer to talking 'therapy' to electric shock aversion therapy and "corrective rape."

'Conversion therapy' is based on an assumption that being gay is a disorder or mental illness that can be 'cured'. This assumption usually stems from orthodox religious teachings about sexuality and gender roles.

All reputable health and psychological organisations, including the NHS, consider the practice of trying to change sexual orientation through psychological therapies to be ineffective, unethical and harmful.

According to the 2018 National Faith & Sexuality Survey by the Ozanne Foundation, of those respondents with experience of attempting to change their sexual orientation, well over half had suffered from mental health issues as a result. Nearly a third of those who suffered mental health issues had attempted suicide.

'Conversion therapy' harms society as well as individuals, because it perpetuates negative attitudes towards LGBT people.

According to the 2020 'Conversion therapy' and gender identity survey by Stonewall and other groups:

  • The majority of respondents reported that religious belief was a key motivating factor in pursuing "conversion therapy", and that members of their religious community – particularly religious leaders - were most likely to offer conversion therapy
  • The vast majority of respondents who went through conversion therapy were from religious childhood households.
  • A large proportion of conversion therapy attempts were done by religious or spiritual leaders.

These are a few of the organisations that the NSS know have been involved in promoting, facilitating or carrying out various forms of 'conversion therapy'. We suspect there are many others, but due to the controversial nature of 'conversion therapy' many organisations do not admit openly that they promote the practice. All the following organisations have a religious ethos, and they are all registered charities.

Core Issues Trust: Advocates what it calls 'change orientated therapy' for people 'seeking to leave homosexual behaviours and feelings'.

Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries (MFMM): An undercover investigation by the Liverpool Echo in 2017 revealed that an MFMM church was practising an extreme form of 'conversion therapy' involving a three-day starvation programme.

Winners Chapel International: In 2018, undercover work by ITV News obtained video evidence of a pastor at a Winners Chapel church offering "complete mind reorientation" for gay people.

Ghamidi Centre of Islamic Communication: This became a registered charity as recently as December 2020. Although it does not directly promote or conduct 'conversion therapy', a lecture on its website said that same-sex attraction is "a disease" that "needs to be cured".

We agree with all reputable medical and psychological experts that 'conversion therapy' is ineffective, harmful and unethical. Society should work towards ending the practice.

We think individuals under 18 should be protected from any form of 'conversion therapy' by law. This is similar to laws passed in other countries, including Germany.

We are extremely concerned that so many of the organisations promoting forms of 'conversion therapy' are registered charities. We think no organisation promoting this practice should be eligible for charity status, with all the tax exemptions, gift aid and other benefits charitable status entails, because charities are supposed to benefit the public and not cause harm. Charities that do promote 'conversion therapy' should lose their charitable status and be removed from the charities register. This is similar to legislation in the Netherlands, where organisations offering 'conversion therapy are not eligible for subsidies.

We note that many of the charities promoting conversion therapy are registered under the charitable purpose of "the advancement of religion". We suspect this helps them to register with less scrutiny. We think removing "the advancement of religion" as a charitable purpose would help ensure harmful religious organisations cannot attain charitable status; religious organisations that do provide a genuine public benefit can easily register under a different charitable purpose.

We recognise that 'conversion therapy' can be broad and often difficult to define. We also recognise that a conflict exists between protecting harm people from exploitation and through 'conversion therapy', and giving consenting adults personal autonomy and freedom of religion. For this reason, any proposals to legislate against 'conversion therapy' for adults must proceed carefully to ensure the law is proportionate and prioritises individual human rights.

Finally, there are still many barriers to LGBT equality in the UK, and sadly many organisations and individuals who promote hatred of LGBT people. The best way to end 'conversion therapy' is to end the demand, by working towards a society that treats LGBT people as equals and challenging those institutions, including religious institutions, that espouse homophobic views.