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  • Grace Condon

Conversion Therapy Must Be Banned Worldwide

LGBTQ+ refugees living in Kenya stand behind a rainbow flag outside an office of the UN refugee agency UNHCR in Nairobi, Kenya in May 2019. | Ben Curtis/AP

By Grace Condon

What is Conversion Therapy?

So-called “conversion therapy,” also known as “reparative therapy,” “reintegrative therapy,” or “aversion therapy,” is a practice aimed at changing homosexual, transgender, or non-binary individuals’ sexual orientation or gender identity to heterosexual or cisgender identity.

The practice of conversion therapy is rooted in the erroneous and prejudiced belief that homosexuality and gender diverse identities are illnesses that must be cured. Such gender identities are often also seen as morally reprehensible or sinful.

Proponents of conversion therapy cite pseudoscientific evidence that the “therapy” is both effective and beneficial to individuals who undergo “treatment.” In reality, there is no reliable scientific evidence that conversion therapy has ever worked. In fact, there is strong evidence that it is both harmful and dangerous to the health and even the lives of homosexuals and transgender individuals.

Homosexuality, particularly among men, has for centuries been considered deviant and was widely criminalized. At the end of the 19th century, a German psychiatrist claimed that he had turned a gay man straight through hypnosis sessions and trips to a brothel. This claim set off a conversion therapy movement that continued into the 20th century.

During the 20th century, most psychiatrists considered homosexuality a mental illness that needed to be cured. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) considered homosexuality a psychiatric disorder until 1973. Some LGBTQ+  people were given electroconvulsive therapy. Some were even subjected to lobotomies in order to “cure” their homosexuality or gender non-conforming identities.

Aversion therapy was also a widely used technique. LGBTQ+ people were given chemicals that would make them vomit or given electrical shocks and then shown gay pornography or photos of their lovers. Aversion therapy was based on the belief that if LGBTQ+ people were made to feel disgust at homosexuality they would no longer have any desire for same-sex relationships.

Although conversion therapy is now widely discredited by the medical and psychiatric communities, it is still a common practice in countries around the world.

According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), homosexuality and gender diverse identities are not pathological; “the absence of pathology means there is no need for conversion or any other like intervention. Further, there is evidence that “conversion therapies” increase the risk of causing or exacerbating mental health conditions in the very youth they purport to treat.”

Source: Global Citizen

Conversion Therapy is Torture

A United Nations expert on sexual orientation and gender identity, Victor Madrigal-Borloz, has stated that conversion therapy can amount to torture and should be banned globally. He states that conversion therapy practices are:

·         “inherently discriminatory;

·         they are cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment; and

·         depending on the severity or physical or mental pain and suffering inflicted on the victim, they may amount to torture.”

According to Madrigal-Borloz, there are 3 main practices used in modern day conversion therapy:

1.    psychotherapeutic interventions based on the belief that LGBTQ+ identities come from abnormal or traumatic upbringings,

2.    medical interventions based on the belief that sexual and gender diversity are biological dysfunctions, and

3.    faith-based approaches rooted in the belief that LGBTQ+ identities are evil and sinful.

Borloz has pointed out that physical, psychological, and sexual abuse, as well as electrocution, forced medication, isolation, confinement, verbal abuse, and humiliation are all tactics used during conversion therapy.

Victims of conversion therapy may also be subjected to anti-gay slurs, beatings, shackling, food deprivation, and exorcisms.

Borloz has identified public and private mental healthcare providers, faith-based organizations, traditional healers, and State agents as the perpetrators of this abuse.

There is evidence that being subjected to conversion therapy has long-lasting detrimental effects on victims’ physical and mental wellbeing. Conversion therapy increases the individual’s vulnerability to anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress, as well as suicidal ideation and suicide attempts.

The Pan American Health Association has stated that conversion therapy represents “a severe threat to the health and human rights of victims.”

Conversion therapy is unethical and dangerous to those subjected to it.

While conversion therapy has been banned in some countries, it is still legal in the majority of the world. In a few countries, there is no explicit legislation banning the practice, but limited restrictions are in place including prohibiting healthcare practitioners from carrying out conversion therapy. Even in some countries that have legislation restricting conversion therapy, the practice continues. According to No Conversion Canada, as of 2021, as many as 10% of LGBTQ+ Canadians have been subjected to conversion therapy.

What Can be Done?

Organizations like the Trevor Project and OutRight Action are working towards a global ban on conversion therapy through legislative advocacy, public education, and providing survivor testimonies. Spokespersons for both of these organizations have stated that “building a broad coalition of religious leaders, public figures, politicians, and everyday citizens is key to banning the practice.”

Bringing attention to the fact that conversion therapy remains a widespread practice, rather than something of the past, is imperative in the struggle to implement a worldwide ban.

Reducing social stigma against LGBTQ+ people is another key to ending conversion therapy, as the practice is rooted in prejudiced assumptions and beliefs about groups that do not conform to standard gender classifications.

Legislation is needed in most countries to ban the practice. Such legislation should also prescribe punishment for those who subject LGBTQ+ people to conversion therapy.

The persecution and torture of LGBTQ+ people through conversion therapy should be considered a crime against humanity.

The views and opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Genocide Watch

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