Conversion therapy is abhorrent and barbaric
No one should be told that their identity, who they are as a person is wrong- nor is it something which must be cured.
It needs to be said emphatically and unequivocally that sexual orientation is not a sin to be confessed.
The freedom to be oneself is something most of us take for granted, an innateness which many of us do not give a second thought.
Yet for some gay, lesbian, bi and transgender individuals it can be the most frightening, dangerous step they will ever take.
The practice of conversion therapy is not only abhorrent but barbaric and must be resigned to the past.
The untold damage and trauma it has caused people here will never truly be known but thanks to the bravery of victims who have come forward to testify to their harrowing experiences, a light has been shone on just how frighteningly widespread this practice is.
For too long the LGBT community have been let down; fighting for the same rights afforded to others, for an equal place in society.
And while NI has come some way in advancing LGBT rights, the fight is nowhere near the finish line.
The Executive committed to a sexual orientation strategy in New Decade, New Approach - it is crucial that legislation to outlaw conversion therapy is a part of that. Any strategy brought forward must also focus on addressing LGBT health inequalities - it is important to note that research from the Rainbow Project has shown that LGBT people are particularly vulnerable to developing mental health problems due to the homophobia, discrimination and oppression that exists within our society.
It will therefore come as no surprise that this community is more likely to self-harm, feel suicidal and suffer from addiction issues.
Now consider those horrific statistics in the context of conversion therapy- organisations perpetuating the falsehood that sexual orientation is something which can be controlled, preying on extremely vulnerable individuals who have already been set at a disadvantage within our society.
It is incumbent upon each and every one of us to tackle all forms of discrimination within our society.
We must find a way forward, to protect victims and send a clear message to practitioners that this so-called therapy, is wrong. To do that we need legal backing in the form of an outright ban.
There are those within the Assembly who promote mental health and wellbeing but in the same breath support or rather tolerate conversion therapy. The two are wholly incompatible viewpoints- support of the latter is effectively a denial of the former.
We are duty bound to elevate the narrative- and I want to express in no uncertain terms here, homosexuality is not a ‘brokenness’ but rather it is the system, and the attitudes here which are broken. And I apologise to every member of the LGBT community who have been failed by our system.
Every citizen should be free to live and to love, without fear of shame or judgement. We need to start from a premise of understanding and champion LGBT inclusive education in our schools, to allow young people to form healthy relationships with themselves and others.
By engaging and educating, we can create a society that works for all.
The SDLP was built on the foundations of equality, a fight which continues here. Conversion therapy has no place in any society. But it is happening, it is dangerous and we must do everything we can to stop it.