Instagram bans 'conversion therapy' content as opposition grows

by Darnell Christie | @darnellchristie | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 10 July 2020 16:39 GMT

The Instagram logo and binary cyber codes are seen in this illustration taken November 26, 2019. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

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Many countries are reviewing their laws on the practice, which aims to alter sexual orientation or gender identity

By Darnell Christie

LONDON, July 10 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Instagram said on Friday it would block content that promotes so-called conversion therapy, which aims to alter a person's sexual orientation or gender identity, as pressure to ban the practice grows.

The social media giant announced earlier this year it would no longer allow adverts for conversion therapy services, which can range from counselling and 'praying away the gay' to electric shocks and sexual violence.

"We don't allow attacks against people based on sexual orientation or gender identity," Tara Hopkins, Instagram's public policy director for Europe, Middle East and Africa said in an emailed statement.

"(We) are updating our policies to ban the promotion of conversion therapy services."

A spokesman for Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, said it would take time to update all policies and content flagged by users may not be removed immediately.

The United Nations independent expert on sexual orientation and gender identity called last month for a global ban on conversion therapy, describing it as "cruel, inhumane and degrading".

A growing number of countries - including the United States, Canada, Chile and Mexico - are reviewing their laws. Brazil, Ecuador and Malta have nationwide bans on conversion therapy, while Germany outlawed the treatment for minors in May.

Instagram's move is "a step in the right direction, but we'd have to wait and see exactly what kind of actions they take," Harry Hitchens, co-founder of the campaign group Ban Conversion Therapy, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Ban Conversion Therapy sent an open letter yesterday to Britain's Equalities Minister Liz Truss, urging her "to introduce a truly effective ban on conversion therapy for all lesbian, gay, bi, trans and gender diverse people in the UK".

Among those who signed the letter were musicians Elton John and Dua Lipa and writer and actor Stephen Fry.

Truss pledged in May to ban conversion therapy for sexual orientation.

In a global survey of 1,641 survivors of conversion therapy published by the United Nations in May, 46% identified the perpetrators as being medical and mental health providers, while 19% were religious authorities and traditional healers.

Bisi Alimi, a Nigerian LGBT+ activist who underwent conversion therapy aged 16, welcomed the ban but said it had been "a long time coming".

"What is missing for me in all of this conversation is the face of it, the horror of it. And I don't care how terrible it is, people need to see it and see real human beings sharing their story in public," he said.

Related stories:

U.N. expert calls for global ban on 'cruel' conversion therapy

Germany bans 'gay conversion therapy' for minors as more nations eye laws

End of a 'cure'? U.S. ban on gay conversion therapy gains ground

(Reporting by Darnell Christie @darnellchristie; Editing by Rachel Savage and Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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