Time to "shine a light" and ban conversion therapies - experts

by Ellen Wulfhorst | @EJWulfhorst | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 20 February 2018 14:54 GMT

ARCHIVE PHOTO: Demonstrators await decisions in two cases regarding same-sex marriage at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington June 26, 2013. REUTERS/James Lawler Duggan

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Despite global gains, many gay people are still forced to undergo archaic and invasive therapy

By Ellen Wulfhorst

NEW YORK, Feb 20 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Treatments that claim to "cure" gay people are making headlines, with a new movie winning praise, another yanked off the screen and a tiff at the Winter Olympics reigniting calls for banning so-called conversion therapy.

Despite global gains in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights, many gay people are still forced to undergo archaic and invasive therapy based on the idea that homosexuality is a mental disorder or medical condition.

Such treatment - often in religious settings - can involve psychoanalysis, injections and electric shocks.

FACTBOX - Despite debunking, conversion therapy persists around globe

While the practice has been widely discredited, only Brazil, Ecuador and Malta have nationwide bans, says the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA).

In other nations, the practice is prohibited by medical associations. It remains legal in most of the United States, but several states, cities and counties have ruled it illegal.

Campaigners said public awareness is rising following an award-winning movie unveiled at the Sundance Film Festival and the recent cancellation by a London cinema of a screening of a conversion film after protest from the LGBT community.

"These moments are moments to shine a light," Xavier Persad, legislative counsel at the Washington-based Human Rights Campaign, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"Conversion therapy is still happening," he said, calling it "ubiquitously condemned" and "incredibly harmful".

IN THE SPOTLIGHT

At Sundance, "The Miseducation of Cameron Post", about teens sent to conversion therapy, won the Grand Jury Prize last month.

"We want to dedicate this award to the LGBTQ survivors of sexual conversion therapy," said actress Chloe Grace Moretz, in accepting the award.

In the United States, nearly 700,000 LGBT adults have undergone conversion therapy, according to estimates by The Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law in California.

At the Winter Olympics in South Korea, openly gay U.S. skater Adam Rippon hit headlines worldwide for reportedly turning down an invitation to meet U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, who has expressed staunchly anti-gay rights views.

Pence has been caught up in accusations that he supports conversion therapy based on statements he made during his first run for Congress. His spokesmen have denied the claims.

The practice has been discredited by the American Medical Association, American Psychological Association, Britain's Royal College of General Practitioners, and the Church of England.

"There are times when conversion therapy is brought to attention, and this is one of those moments," said Graeme Reid, head of the LGBT rights program at Human Rights Watch.

Medical and psychiatric associations in such countries as Turkey, India and Argentina have stated opposition to conversion therapy, keeping it from occurring in medical settings, he said.

Brazilian evangelical groups have lobbied to repeal its ban, and a legal challenge is going through the courts, ILGA said.

In Britain, the government is facing pressure to ban the therapy, and several lawmakers have vowed to press the issue.

Laura Russell, head of policy for Stonewall, a UK-based gay rights group, said these recent developments reinforce that "all forms of 'therapy' that attempt to change a person's sexual orientation or gender identity are unethical and wrong".

"Lesbian, gay, bi and trans people are not ill," she said.

(Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst, Editing by Robert Carmichael and Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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