A groundbreaking report recently released by the GLBT human rights organization OutRight Action International exposes the global reach of so-called conversion therapy.
“Harmful Treatment: The Global Reach of So-Called Conversion Therapy” draws on data from survey results with almost five hundred respondents from eighty countries, and in-depth interviews with experts and survivors from more than a dozen countries, and shows that conversion therapy efforts occur across the world.
“Conversion therapy” is the most widely used term to describe practices attempting to change, suppress, or divert one’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. The practices vary due to religious, cultural, or traditional contexts and range from overtly physically violent, such as electroshock or “corrective rape,” to psychologically abusive, such as isolation or psychiatric hospitalization, or more subtle forms of talk therapy or group therapy. Practices can also be religiously based, including extensive prayer, fasting and spiritual rituals. But regardless of the form they take, conversion therapy practices are not a recognized form of therapy and certainly do not result in conversion. In fact, such practices cause deep, lasting trauma that affects every realm of life.
OutRight’s study found that:
* The main perpetrators and advocates of “conversion therapy” are people acting in the name of religion or pseudo-healthcare, with GLBTIQ individuals often coerced or pressured by family.
* A third of the people who responded to this study who experienced “conversion therapy” sought it out themselves.
* While they may vary due to religious, cultural, or traditional norms and contexts, “conversion therapy” practices never work; instead, they cause deep, lasting trauma.
* Persistence of “conversion therapy” is directly related to societal beliefs about GLBTIQ people and the degree to which our lives are deemed unacceptable within families, faiths, and societies at large.
George Barasa, a survivor of conversion therapy from Kenya, reports: “Conversion therapy is not a single event – it is a process of continued degradation and assault on the core of who you are. There are often repeated violations in the form of psychological and sometimes physical abuse... It is not one instance – it is a continued sense of rejection. The pressure is enormous.”
Maria Sjödin, Deputy Director of Outright Action International, comments: “Our report paints a chilling picture of the global prevalence of these barbaric practices which constitute heteronormative indoctrination. So-called conversion therapy efforts hinge on the belief that heterosexuality is the norm, and gender identities beyond the binary and/or same-sex attraction not only fall outside the norm, but have to be changed, if need be by brutal, inhuman force, through practices which have been recognized to be tantamount to torture by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.”
Strides have been taken to raise awareness and even outlaw such practices in parts of the USA, Latin America, Europe, and Australia. However, to date, only four countries have an outright ban on so-called conversion therapy, to know Brazil, Ecuador, Malta, and Taiwan.
In the Netherlands “conversion therapies” have been blocked from coverage by healthcare insurance since June 2012. On 17 May 2019, after a television program showed that several organizations, including Dutch Pentecostal and Baptist groups, were offering “conversion therapy,” the Labour Party (PvdA) and Democrats 66 requested an investigation into the allegations. In May 2019, Hugo de Jonge (CDA), the Minister of Health, Welfare and Sport, informed the House of Representatives that he saw no need to ban “conversion therapies” in the Netherlands.
He also said that he is not planning to commission an “in-depth and independent investigation” into the extent to which young people in the Netherlands are exposed to such practices. However, on May 22, 2019, the House of Representatives adopted a motion to investigate the extent of gay “conversion therapy” in the Netherlands, and on May 29, the House of Representatives adopted another motion; this time calling on Ferdinand Grapperhaus (CDA), the Minister of Justice and Security, to create a legislative proposal to explicitly ban conversion therapy. Parliamentarians called such “treatments” “indigestible” and “harmful.” The adopted motion does not provide for a timetable.
Maria Sjödin continues: “We welcome the efforts of a handful of governments around the world to ban ‘conversion therapy,’ and urge governments in other countries highlighted in this report to take similar steps to safeguard their GLBTIQ citizens from these harmful practices. At the same time, it is clear that the demand for ‘conversion therapy’ will only diminish when social, family, and religious condemnation of GLBTIQ lives ceases, and GLBTIQ people are free to live their lives with access to their full human rights.”
A PDF of the report is available at https://outrightinternational.org/sites/default/files/ConversionFINAL_1.pdf