A ground-breaking report released today by ILGA World has exposed how – thanks to the tireless advocacy of activists, survivors and grassroots organisations – States and health professionals across the world are speaking up against so-called ‘conversion therapies’. Their joint efforts are crucial to protect people from a myriad of pseudo-scientific practices that continue to have a destructive effect on people’s lives from a very early age.


By Daniele Paletta


ILGA World (26.02.2020) – deception – A world survey of legal restrictions of so-called ‘conversion therapies’ is an extensive global research into laws banning these discredited practices both at the national and subnational level.


The report also explores the vast field of techniques that have been used in the past—and continue to be used today—for the purpose of attempting to alter lesbians, gays and bisexuals’ sexual orientation, to prevent trans youth from transitioning or make trans people de-transition, or to force our gender expressions and roles to align with the social binary stereotypes of masculinity and femininity.


“As of February 2020, three UN member States (Brazil, Ecuador and Malta) have enacted nationwide laws to restrict so-called ‘conversion therapies’”, explains Lucas Ramón Mendos, Senior Research Officer at ILGA World and author of the report. “Subnational jurisdictions in three more UN member States (Canada, Spain and the United States) have done the same, hopefully paving the way for others to move in the same direction. For too long, experimentation and abuse has taken place under the legitimising cloak of medicine, psychology and science”.


Throughout the 20th century, mental health practitioners resorted to medical experimentation, lobotomy, castration, masturbatory reconditioning, chemical and electroshock aversion therapy, hypnosis and other brutal and inhumane techniques in their attempts to modify sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.


Oftentimes, children and adolescents have been the primary victims of these practices:  in many cases, the discomfort with the child’s gender non-conformity has been at the root of much of parents’ and caregivers’ motivations for subjecting their children to ‘conversion therapies’, as failing to comport with socially dominant models of gender expression, gender identity or sexual orientation is cast as a problem to be “prevented” and “corrected”.


Protection from similar ineffective and cruel treatment is, unfortunately, as urgent as ever: as the report details, gruesome practices– including electroshock ‘therapies’, forced internments in ‘clinics’ and exorcisms – are still applied in numerous countries, pushing people of diverse sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions to living miserable, self-loathing lives, up to the extreme consequences of committing suicide.


“Our research shows that, today, the main driving forces behind these harmful practices are religious leaders and prejudice. Many have ended up seeking ‘conversion therapy’ for themselves as they perceived their sexual orientation and gender identity in conflict with their religion,” continues Mendos. “It is vital that we pay special attention and listen to the members of our communities with lived experiences of faith”.


2020 could be an important year in the fight against ‘conversion therapies’. “Bills to restrict these ill-informed practices have been introduced in national legislative bodies in at least 10 countries,” explains Julia Ehrt, Director of Programmes at ILGA World. “Six court cases worldwide were litigated with positive results. State officials and governmental agencies are speaking up, together with human rights bodies. And, to date, more than 60 health professional associations in 20 countries have repudiated efforts to ‘change’ a person’s gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation. Legal reform is only one of the many avenues that can be explored to tackle ‘conversion therapies’: our report includes a wide array of tools that human rights defenders can use in their advocacy efforts”.


As more and more survivors are finding the courage and strength to come forward, our communities are more determined than ever to put an end to ‘conversion therapy’.


“Our lives are at stake”, remind Luz Elena Aranda and Tuisina Ymania Brown, Co-Secretaries General of ILGA World. “For centuries, we have been told we need to be mended, to be changed, to me moulded to fit a binary. From a very early age, many of us come to internalise that something about them needs to be silenced. Attempts to turn us into people we are not are still being imposed onto us in the name of religion, culture, science and even out of ill-informed good intentions. Too many lives have been ruined, or ended, and many more will be if we don’t act now. We hope that our research can raise awareness, and contribute to stop something that has harmed our communities so deeply.”


Key figures (as of February 2020):

  • 3 UN member States (Brazil, Ecuador and Malta) have enacted nationwide laws to restrict so-called ‘conversion therapies’


  • In other 3 UN member States, subnational jurisdictions have enacted bans or restrictions on these practices: Canada (3 provinces and several cities), Spain (5 regions) and the United States of America (19 states, Washington DC, Puerto Rico and numerous cities and counties)


  • In 5 UN member States (Argentina, Uruguay, Fiji, Nauru and Samoa), mental health laws prohibit diagnosing patients exclusively on the basis of sexual orientation and/or gender identity: these laws act as indirect bans


  • 10 countries have introduced bills in national legislative bodies to restrict these practices. In several other countries – including Australia, Canada, Mexico, and the United States – sub-national jurisdictions continue to discuss these bills


  • At least 6 court cases have been litigated in 3 different countries with positive results


  • The World Health Organization (WHO), the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the World Medical Association and the World Psychiatric Association—as well as more than 60 health professional associations spread across more than 20 countries – have repudiated efforts to change a person’s gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation.
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