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by Staff reporter
19 November 2021
Ministers urged to probe LGBTI charity in row over 'online hostility' against gay MP

Ministers urged to probe LGBTI charity in row over 'online hostility' against gay MP

The Scottish Government has been urged to probe a taxpayer-funded Scottish lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex charity over claims it went out of its way to “generate online hostility” against a gay MP.

Joanna Cherry has written to Shona Robison, the Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, asking her to get officials to “investigate and report” on the Equality Network’s decision to publish a tweet that the MP for Edinburgh South West says resulted in a “large volume of hostile communications” aimed at her.

It stems from a row over the weekend when it was claimed she had endorsed conversion therapy -  sometimes called "reparative therapy" or "gay cure therapy," this is the practice of trying to change someone's sexual orientation or gender identity.

In a tweet Cherry said: "Re conversion therapy which any right thinking person should oppose we must not make it a criminal offence for therapists to try to help patients with gender dysphoria to feel comfortable in their birth sex. As we used to say #Somepeoplearegay. #GetoverIt."

That sparked a furious response, with a number of the MP’s colleagues and others taking to social media to criticise Cherry. 

The SNP's youth and LGBTI groups called for her to be kicked out of the party.

Out for Independence said she needed to have the whip removed and called for “an independent investigation into transphobia in the party.”

Kirsty Blackman, the SNP MP for Aberdeen North, tweeted that she had complained about Cherry “through the proper channels, repeatedly, for years” and yet it had “resulted in nothing happening and these views still being expressed - and still causing harm to so many people.” 

On Monday morning, at 6.13am, the Equality Network then shared a picture of Cherry’s tweet, with the comment “Apparently, ‘We must not make it a criminal offence for therapists to try to help lesbian & gay patients to feel comfortable in a mixed sex relationship.’

“Conversion therapy is harmful and wrong whether it's trying to change someone's sexual orientation or their gender identity.”

In her letter to Robison, the MP said this was an “abhorrent statement which I had not, and would never make about the use of conversion therapy in relation to the sexual orientation of lesbians and gay men.” 

She added: “The statement had been placed in quotation marks above an image of my earlier tweet; it was clearly intended to attribute this view to me.”

Cherry said the decision to put the offensive words in quotation marks led to “numbers of people assuming that those were a direct quote from me. Such a reading could have been easily anticipated. That impression and the more general association of my original statement with this offensive view, undoubtedly contributed to the large volume of hostile communications I've received this week.”

According to the most recent accounts filed with Companies House, the Equality Network receives the majority of its funding from the Scottish Government. In the last financial year, grants from ministers made up £473,321, or 89 per cent of the total funds of £527,027.

Cherry said the taxpayer funded organisation had behaved “recklessly”. 

She urged Robson to “make it clear to the organisation as a matter of urgency that this was inappropriate behaviour and to obtain reassurances from it that it will now manage its communications in a way which prevents any similar occurrence.

"MPs and MSPs and others engaging in debates about policy and law should not expect government-funded organisations to go out of their way to generate online hostility towards them. Yet that is what happened here. I suggest the Scottish Government, as its funder, should seek an apology to me from the Equality Network for its action here."

Writing in today’s The National, Cherry said that while she opposes conversion therapy "as conventionally understood", she was concerned about the inclusion of 'gender identity' in a UK Government bill to ban the practice, as it "risks threatening professionals working with children and vulnerable people who are having issues with their gender, if they seek to explore the reasons for their distress".

The Equality Network has been approached for comment.

Read the most recent article written by Staff reporter - Associate feature: Keeping safe

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