So-called “conversion therapy” efforts occur across the world and are predominantly promoted and perpetrated by people acting in the name of religion or pseudo-healthcare, often instigated by family pressure.
This is according to a report released by OutRight Action International, which exposes the global reach of the so-called “conversion therapy” by drawing on data from survey results with almost 500 respondents from 80 countries, and in-depth interviews with experts and survivors from more than a dozen countries.
“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. It is also called reorientation therapy, reparative therapy, reintegrative therapy, or, more recently, support for unwanted same-sex attraction or transgender identities.
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 or the name attributed, so-called 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 LGBTIQ individuals often coerced or pressured by family.
- A third of the people who responded to this study who experienced so-called 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 LGBTIQ people and the degree to which their lives are deemed unacceptable within families, faiths, and societies at large.
- Respondents from 80 countries showed that “conversion therapy” occurs in all regions of the world.
George Barasa, a survivor of conversion therapy from Kenya, said: “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.”
For her part, Maria Sjödin, deputy director of Outright Action International, said: “Our report paints a chilling picture of the global prevalence of these barbaric practices which constitute cis-gender, heteronormative indoctrination. So-called conversion therapy efforts hinge on the belief that cis-gender 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 US, Latin America, Europe, and Australia. However, to date, only four countries have an outright ban on so-called conversion therapy.
“It is clear that the demand for ‘conversion therapy’ will only diminish when social, family, and religious condemnation of LGBTIQ lives ceases, and LGBTIQ people are free to live their lives with access to their full human rights. As such, we look forward to working across civil society, states and multilateral organizations to not only ban ‘conversion therapy’, but continually seek ways to ensure the sustainable, and genuine inclusion, acceptance and safeguarding of the human rights of LGBTIQ people,” Sjödin stressed.
Earlier studies actually also noted the role of family (particularly parents/guardians) in the implementation of this harmful practice.
For instance, a study from the Family Acceptance Project (FAP), dubbed “Parent-Initiated Sexual Orientation Change Efforts with LGBT Adolescents: Implications for Young Adult Mental Health and Adjustment“, examined the sexual orientation change experiences for LGBT youth across several domains and asked about conversion experiences with both parents/caregivers and with practitioners and religious leaders. In the study published online in the Journal of Homosexuality, more than half (53%) of LGBT non-Latino white and Latino young adults, ages 21-25, reported experiencing sexual orientation change efforts during adolescence. Of these, 21% reported specific experiences by parents and caregivers to change their sexual orientation at home; and 32% reported sexual orientation change efforts by both parents and by therapists and religious leaders.