One of the questions gay people are often asked is “if you could be turned straight, would you want to be?” My reply is to counter the question with another question: “if you could be turned gay, would you want to be?” Answer comes there none. It’s a preposterous question, assuming one believes that there is a so-called ‘gay gene’ and that we’re all born the way we are.
Trouble is, there are still a huge number of people who believe that being gay is something we choose, or something we’re persuaded into. I get this often on my radio show. I usually ask the people who vehemently believe this whether they could themselves ever be ‘persuaded’ to be gay. “Of course not,” they splutter in indignation. “Well if you couldn’t be persuaded, why do you think anyone else could be?” Again, answer comes there none. Mostly.
I also ask these people why I would have chosen to be gay when my life might well have been much more straightforward and without complications if I had been straight and lived a straight lifestyle. Why would I choose to be something which attracts discrimination, bullying, insults and sniggering? Why? If we believe in the concept of ‘natural choice’ and believe that logic plays a part in our decisions, who, in their right mind would choose a lifestyle which is still seen by many as abhorrent? Far easier to fit into the mainstream.
I should make clear at this point that I regret nothing about being gay. I’m not one of those tortured self-loathing gays who think life is against them because of their inclinations. I’m proud of who I am and what I have done in my life. I am proud that I have married my partner and that last year we celebrated a twenty-year long relationship. Yes, it can be done!
If I could have had my life over again, and if the option were available to me, would I have chosen to be straight? I don’t have a yes/no answer to that question, but I err strongly on the side of ‘no’. In the end I don’t think there’s much point in speculating about it. For me it’s maybe simpler than for others as I have never wanted children. Workwise I only ever had two ambitions – to be an MP and to be a radio presenter. I am as sure as I can be that if I hadn’t been gay I would have achieved the former, but being gay has neither been an advantage or a disadvantage in the latter. But I have absolutely no regrets. By declaring I was gay to various selection committees I blazed a trail for others. It wasn’t something I really gave a lot of thought to until someone came up to me at a Tory conference and said thanks for making it easier for him and others.
Anyway, all this is building up to a plea to the government. A couple of years ago Amy Lame and I were doing a newspaper review on Sky News. Somehow we got to talking about gay conversion therapy. I suggested we should both go to the USA and offer ourselves to a gay conversion clinic and do an undercover documentary about it. We never did anything about it, but I wish we had because these clinics prey on the weak and the vulnerable and need to be closed down.
Nicky Morgan, the Education and Equalities Minister, has said that she wants to eradicate them, but at the time of writing these are just words. She said at the end of last year: “I was shocked to discover that one in 10 social and healthcare staff have heard colleagues express the belief that someone can be cured of being gay. Let me be clear: gay cure therapies have no place in our countries and we must stamp them out.”
Many people attend these clinics under pressure from their parents. You can’t necessarily put all the blame on the parents, who of often believe they are doing the best for their child. They do it out of both love and ignorance. They don’t realise the people who run them are quacks.
So yes, Nicky Morgan, fine words. But in 2016 they need to be turned into action.