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‘My spirit broken’: Mexicans battle to ban conversion therapy

In Mexico, LGBT+ people often are subjected to conversion therapy aimed at trying to change their sexual orientation or gender identity, but now lawmakers want it to stop.


By Oscar Lopez


Thomson Reuters Foundation (17.08.2020) – https://bit.ly/32maakF – When she was 15 years old, Paola Santillan was raped by two men who claimed they would “take the lesbian” out of her. She kept the experience a secret for 10 years.


“I lived that stage of my life in confinement. I lived it in fear, with uncertainty, with the promise of having my spirit broken,” the 27-year-old said. “Everything changed in that moment.”


Santillan is one of an untold number of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Mexico who have undergone traumatic experiences aimed at altering their sexual orientation or gender identity in what is known as conversion therapy.


Widely condemned by leading medical groups, including the World Psychiatric Association, conversion therapy can range from psychological counseling to religious practices and even sexual abuse in an effort to change someone from gay to straight.


Official statistics on conversion therapy in Mexico are not widely available, but mental health experts and rights activists say the practice is widespread.


“This has become fairly normalized in our society,” Ivan Tagle, director general of advocacy group Yaaj told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.


Up to six out of every 10 young people who come to Yaaj have endured conversion therapy, he said.


The United Nations has called for a global ban on the practice, but worldwide, only a handful of countries – Brazil, Ecuador and Malta – have nationwide bans.


This month, Queensland became the first state in Australia to outlaw conversion therapy, and in July, Mexico City became the country’s first jurisdiction to do so, with providers facing up to five years in prison.


But now supporters are pushing for Mexico to take the law nationwide.


A bill to ban the practice nationally was approved by Senate committees earlier this year, and lawmakers say a vote by the full chamber will take place next month.


“When I found out that these tortuous and inhumane practices existed … I decided work on the issue,” said Citlalli Hernandez, a senator with the ruling Morena party who has championed the bill.


If the measure is approved by the Senate, Hernandez said she hopes it will pass to the House of Deputies by November. Then it will need approval from the Morena-controlled lower chamber before moving to the president’s desk for signature.


‘A good Christian’


In a socially conservative country where the Catholic church is often critical of gay rights, LGBT+ issues are divisive and for many, being gay or trans in Mexico means enduring violence and discrimination.


According to a 2016 study from Yaaj, more than a third of Mexican LGBT+ young people had experienced psychological abuse, while a fifth had suffered physical violence.


Facing a life of difficulty, many young LGBT+ people seek out conversion therapy themselves or are forced into such treatment by their parents, according to mental health experts and rights advocates.


Conversion therapies are often offered by religious groups in Mexico, where 80% of the population identifies as Catholic. Many others are members of evangelical Christian churches.


“In Mexico it works because of the guilt … of not being a ‘good Christian’,” said Jonathan Silva, a psychology professor at the IBERO University who treats conversion therapy survivors.


Carmen Francisco, 33, said she started going to conversion therapy 10 years ago at an evangelical church because of the guilt she felt being in a relationship with another woman.


“Being a Christian … I felt bad, like I was doing something wrong,” she said.


At times, she said she thought the process was working, and she went four years without dating women.


But she paid a steep price, particularly when sessions devolved into exorcisms with her ‘therapist’ speaking in tongues.


“I would ask God to change me,” Francisco recalled. “I remember sessions where I would end up kneeling on the floor crying, and I even remember times when I would end up vomiting.”


According to Silva, many interventions take place at intense weekend religious retreats.


“Having three days where someone tells you that … your life identity is nothing more than a sin, a piece of shit, the scum of humanity, has very long-term implications,” he said.


Trans woman Jazz Bustamante said despite surviving an earlier experience with conversion therapy at a Pentecostal church, she went on a religious retreat at age 21 in her own “spiritual quest”.


Over three sleepless nights, Bustamante was told to write down her whole life story on pieces of paper.


On the final night, someone identified as a “godfather” took her aside for a ceremony with candles and incense, where she was told to burn every page and ask God for forgiveness.


The experience proved traumatic.


“The depression and anxiety attacks worsened,” Bustamante said. “There were emotional complications.”


‘The survivors’


LGBT+ people are also sent for conversion therapy at Mexico’s church-funded addiction treatment and rehabilitation centers, rights advocates say.


“They might not promote it in their advertising, but there are these networks for admitting people for (being LGBT+),” said Alex Orue, executive director of youth suicide prevention group It Gets Better Mexico.


In places with actual drug addicts and often administered by men, young LGBT+ people, especially lesbian and bisexual women and girls are “easy prey,” said Orue.


“There are many reports of these ‘corrective’ rapes.”


Mexico’s rampant machismo can make such sexual abuse seem permissible, mental health experts say.


“There is a certain ‘authorization’ for men … to impinge on the life and the body of a woman,” said Silva, the psychology professor.


But whether the intervention is sexual, psychological or spiritual, the consequences can be devastating.


“Everything points to a destruction of any possibility of an identity for a person,” Silva said.


For Santillan, after getting raped for being a lesbian, it took a decade before she could talk about it.


Now sharing her story and campaigning for a conversion therapy ban has given her new purpose.


“I made the personal political,” Santillan said. “Now it’s me who also listens to other testimonies and gives a voice to the survivors that we are.”

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Israeli government considering ban on LGBTQ ‘conversion therapy,’ but bill put on hold

Coalition sources say the fact the bill to ban the widely discredited, harmful practice is even being considered is an achievement, but members of the opposition argue it wasn’t immediately disqualified only to minimize potential backlash against two openly gay ministers.


By Jonathan Lis


Haaretz (21.06.2020) – https://bit.ly/2BvjU2k – The Israeli government will examine legislation that would prohibit so-called conversion therapy, which aims to change the sexual orientation of LGBTQ people, but is widely discredited by experts worldwide and is used despite no scientific evidence that sexual orientation can be altered.


The Ministerial Committee for Legislation will likely delay the bill proposal brought forward by Meretz Chairman Nitzan Horowitz in order to consider a more “moderate” version of the law that would be accepted by ultra-Orthodox parties, according to a government source.


The proposed legislation would ban “conversion therapy” and sanction so-called therapists with jail time, a fine, and revocation of their professional license.


The government source said that the fact the bill is being considered even though the coalition is made up in part by ultra-Orthodox parties, who oppose pro-LGBTQ legislation, is seen as an achievement.


Sources in the opposition, however, said the law was not immediately disqualified not in order to pass it at a later date, but to minimize offense to two openly gay ministers serving on the committee for legislation, and avoid criticism from Benny Gantz’s Kahol Lavan party, which promised it would advocate for the LGBTQ community in its election campaign.


Previous attempts at writing into law a ban on “conversion therapy” have failed, including for bills proposed for former Health Minister Yael German, which never passed even a preliminary Knesset vote.


“‘Conversion therapy’ is murder,” Horowitz said at the meeting of the legislative committee. “It’s murder of the soul and often times the body too. These procedures result in self-harm to the point of suicide. What therapy means here is mental and physical abuse of teenagers.”


Horowitz said that professionals don’t believe the procedure can convert a person’s sexual orientation, and that it results in great harm. “The purpose of this law is to save lives,” he added.


“It’s our duty to locate the businesses of abuse, to revoke their licenses and charge them with a crime. Just as we would with a murderer or any person who causes the death of another person.”


Horowitz appealed to “all who see themselves as part of the fight against homophobia.” He named members of Kahol Lavan ‒ including Benny Gantz, Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn, and Tourism Minister Asaf Zamir ‒ as well as Likud MK Amir Ohana, who is gay, in his appeal.


“It’s our legal and moral duty to save the next victims of ‘conversion therapy.’ It’s an opportunity for the Knesset to give a clear message ‒ it doesn’t matter if you’re straight, gay, lesbian, or trans, we don’t want to change you. You are beautiful and whole just as you are.”

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Albania psychologists barred from conducting gay ‘conversion therapy’

By Rachel Savage


Thomson Reuters Foundation (18.05.2020) – https://bit.ly/3c1Z4nU – Albania’s leading psychologists’ organisation has barred members from carrying out so-called “conversion therapy” which aims to make gay people straight, as countries around the world consider laws to ban the controversial practice.


The Order of Psychologists said members would face disciplinary proceedings if they carried out the treatment, which is based on the belief that being gay or transgender is a mental illness that can be “cured”.


All registered psychologists in Albania must be members of the Order of Psychologists which has given licences to about 600 psychologists since it was set up by parliament in 2017.


Only three countries – Brazil, Ecuador and Malta – have nationwide bans on “conversion therapy”, but earlier this month Germany outlawed the treatment for minors. The United States, Canada, Chile and Mexico are among nations seeking bans.


Xheni Karaj, executive director of the Alliance Against Discrimination of LGBT (Aleanca LGBT), an Albanian advocacy group, said the move was “very, very positive”.


“We know psychologists work a lot … in schools and we have had many cases of school psychologists (telling LGBT) kids that this is a disease and you should be turned back to ‘normal’,” Karaj told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.


The Order of Psychologists issued its ban after a request from Albanian LGBT+ advocacy group Pink Embassy on May 11.


“Our professionals appreciate that conversion therapy is an archaic, unethical practice that categorically contradicts fundamental human rights and freedoms,” president of the Order of Psychologists, Valbona Treska, said in a statement.


Albania’s government did not respond to requests for comment.


Discrimination against LGBT+ people is illegal in Albania, but Aleanca LGBT documented almost 450 anti-LGBT+ hate crimes in 2019. The report found only 34 cases were reported to the police, due to mistrust and fears of being outed.


There were “a growing number of hate speech incidents in the media … most targeting trans people,” in the Balkan country in 2019, according to ILGA-Europe, a regional advocacy group.


Practices that aim to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity have been condemned by numerous medical associations globally. The European parliament denounced conversion therapy in 2018 and urged member states to ban it.


Brutal and extreme conversion methods including torture, forced internment, electroshock therapy and sexual violence have been documented in Ecuador, South Africa, the Dominican Republic and China.


A 2019 survey by advocacy group The Trevor Project in the United States, where 19 states ban conversion therapy for minors, found 42% of LGBT+ youth who underwent the treatment said they had later attempted suicide.

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‘Conversion Therapy’: ILGA World releases extensive global research into laws banning the discredited practice

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) – https://bit.ly/3asO6aFCurbing 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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