A study of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, intersex, and two-spirit (LGBTQI2+) people in Québec, Canada found that about one quarter have experienced attempts to change their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.
These findings – presented in the journal PLOS ONE – noted that while same-gender attraction, creative gender expression, and transness are not mental illnesses, “many LGBTQI2+ people nonetheless experience direction, advice, or formal services that aim to change their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.” Unfortunately, “conversion services are known to cause harm.”
To broaden understanding of conversion efforts in Canada, Martin Blais of the Université du Québec à Montréal and colleagues analyzed survey responses from 3,261 LGBTQI2+ adults in Québec. The survey included questions about conversion attempts experienced by participants, as well as their relationship to the people involved; for instance, parents or clergy.
About one fourth of the participants reported experiencing attempts to change their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. Fewer than 5% reported involvement in formal conversion services. Among participants who reported involvement in conversion services that focused specifically on gender orientation, only 55% reported that the goals of the service had been made clear to them; such clarity was provided to only 30 percent of participants who had experienced services focused on gender identity or expression.
The results also revealed a key role for LGBTQI2+ adults’ family members in conversion attempts and services. In addition, the likelihood of having experienced conversion efforts was higher for indigenous, intersex, transgender, non-binary, and asexual people, people of color, and people with a sexual orientation that is not monosexual (for instance, bisexual or pansexual).
In light of these findings, the researchers call for support for families to be counseled on acceptance of sexual and gender diversity, as well as improved training and professional practices for health professionals and religious therapists.
The authors add: “Ours is the largest study of conversion practices in Québec, and among the largest studies worldwide. It offers rich insight into the diverse forms taken by conversion practices targeting gender identity and expression and/or sexual orientation today and the risk factors associated with experiencing conversion practices, insights that are critical to policymaking and initiatives that aim to eliminate these degrading and harmful practices.”