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New York City to repeal ‘conversion therapy’ ban to safeguard broader LGBTQIA protections

So-called “conversion therapy” is the term most often attributed to practices which seek to change, suppress, or divert the sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression of people who do not fit the presumed norm of cis-gender heterosexuality. This is widely recognized – including by the World Psychiatric Association – to be based on junk science, and cause deep and lasting trauma on those upon whom it is inflicted.

Photo by Luca Bravo from Unsplash.com

Backing out in the fight against hate as a step to hinder hate.

In New York City in the US, council speaker Corey Johnson introduced a bill which would see the city’s ban on so-called “conversion therapy” lifted. This seems like a bad move, but it is seen as a needed effort to – ironically – safeguard protections for the human rights of LGBTQIA people by avoiding a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the ban reaching the Supreme Court and setting a nation-wide precedent for “conversion therapy”.

So-called “conversion therapy” is the term most often attributed to practices which seek to change, suppress, or divert the sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression of people who do not fit the presumed norm of cis-gender heterosexuality. Also called reorientation therapy, reparative therapy, reintegrative therapy, gay cure therapy, or, more recently, support for unwanted same-sex attraction or transgender identities. These practices are widely recognized – including by the World Psychiatric Association – to be based on junk science, and cause deep and lasting trauma on those upon whom they are inflicted.  

In the US, 18 states ban “conversion therapy” on minors, including New York state. The city’s ban preceded the state ban and is among the most comprehensive bans in the country, as it applies to “any individual” offering any form of “conversion therapy”, not just licensed health professionals, and bans such practices on all people, not just on minors.

The constitutionality of the comprehensive city ban was challenged through a lawsuit filed in January 2019 by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), an organization designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, using pseudo-human rights language to argue that adults have a right to such “therapy”. Lifting the ban is a move to avoid the lawsuit reaching the conservative Supreme Court and setting a precedent allowing the harmful practices to continue. 

Maria Sjodin, deputy director of OutRight Action International, said that “ADF’s challenge and the necessary move to repeal the ban on conversion therapy in New York City is symptomatic of the growing attack on human rights, and the human rights of LGBTQIA people in particular, that has soared in the US under the current administration. Initiatives such as the Commission for Unalienable Rights, and broad attacks on gender and sexual and reproductive health and rights, have emboldened groups such as the ADF to be more visible, and ramp up their attacks on the human rights of LGTBQIA people and women.”

Sjodin added that “proponents of so-called conversion therapy have begun using human rights language to support their efforts, claiming that those who want such services have the right to them. But make no mistake – this is not an effort to safeguard freedom of speech, or the right of LGBTQIA people to seek mental health support, but rather an effort to make more people conform to outdated perceptions of cis-gender heterosexuality as the only acceptable norm.”

The report “Harmful Treatment: The Global Reach of So-Called Conversion Therapy” issued by OutRight Action International last month found that so-called “conversion therapy” practices are prevalent across the world. Total bans on such practices exist only in four countries (Ecuador, Brazil, Taiwan, and Malta), with a further ten, including the US, having partial or policy bans in place. 

“The existence and prevalence of ‘conversion therapy’ is directly related to just how deeply unaccepted and feared LGBTIQ people are in many societies around the world. These practices hinge on the belief that cis-gender heterosexuality is the only accepted norm, and gender identities beyond the one assigned at birth and same-sex attraction are an anomaly, a sickness, and something to be ‘reoriented’, changed or ‘cured’, if need be by brutal, inhuman force. It is shocking that over forty-five years after the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from the Manual of Mental Disorders, and over 20 years after it first condemned ‘conversion therapy’, there are forces fighting for these harmful practices in the US,” Sjodin ended.

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