State Endorsement of Conversion Therapy Must End

Despite ample research demonstrating the inefficacy of conversion therapy on changing an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity, states, religious groups, and anti-gay groups continue to endorse this harmful practice. Conversion therapy can include aversion therapy, shock therapy, talk therapy, and other forms intended to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity to align with heteronormative and/or cisgender standards. It has been discredited on multiple grounds, including by mental health professionals.

Most recently, the issue of conversion therapy has been in news coming from Malaysia. Earlier this month, a three minute video was released by Malaysia’s federal Department of Islamic Development suggesting that LGBTIQ people could be cured from their non-heterosexual orientation.The video suggests that an LGBTIQ person can be trained and corrected to conform to Malaysian society’s standards of heteronormativity. The video also suggests that LGBTIQ individuals could overcome their non-heteronormative desires through marriage or through extensive fasting, and should do so for the sake of religion. This video has received great backlash with the recognition that it is dangerous and undermines the country’s LGBTIQ community.

In the United States current Vice President, Mike Pence, has been accused of supporting conversion therapy. His 2002 campaign website  addresses federal funding for HIV/AIDS programs in advocating that, “Resources should be directed towards those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behaviour.” He has opposed same-sex marriage and LGBTIQ inclusive anti-discrimination policies. He has endorsed a religious exemption bill which allows for store owners to deny services to LGBTIQ people based on religious grounds. While the website statement can be left to interpretation, it is clear the Vice President’s position is not in support of LGBTIQ human rights.

The American Psychological Association and the World Psychiatric Association has renounced the practice, calling it unethical and unscientific. Conversion therapy is currently only outlawed in five states and in the District of Columbia but is not banned at the federal level. While the practice is denounced in the US, Evangelical Christian groups, known for promoting conversion therapy, have taken to exporting the practice to other world regions. Conferences held by these conservative religious groups also continue to promote anti-gay seminars specifically on the ability to cure people of their homosexuality or trans gender identity.

OutRight has engaged in campaigns to end the practice of conversion therapy, most recently by shedding light on what could be considered state sponsored promotion of the practice in South Korea. When two conversion therapy seminars were held on state owned buildings by anti-gay groups, OutRight penned a letter to state officials urging the state to denounce this practice, noting that the allowance of the seminars to occur on state property could be considered state endorsement of conversion therapy and goes against South Korea’s commitment to international human rights and the LGBTIQ community. Noting “These groups, which make up a small minority of the Christian population in South Korea, are known to use religious rhetoric to encourage panic in families who are already worried about the stigma and discrimination they and their LGBT family members may face.” Since the letter, The Conversion Treatment Extermination Network, a network of 18 civic groups, held a press conference on this issue and called on the South Korean government to ban this practice. South Korea is a country where stigma and discrimination against the LGBTIQ community remains high, often propelled by conservative anti-gay Christian groups.

Survivors of conversion therapy have time and time again spoken out against the practice, speaking of experiences and exposure to physical and mental abuse. In 2014 the United Nations Committee Against Torture also issued a public statement against the practice and elevating it as an international human rights concern. Countries all over the world have recognized the harms of conversion therapy and have challenged or banned the practice, yet all too often it continues to happen without retribution against those promoting the practice.

Conversion therapy has been internationally debunked as faulty psychology that is driven by anti-gay bigotry. These kinds of therapy practices contribute to the exclusion, discrimination and even violence against individuals who are LGBTIQ. Still, much has yet to be done to ensure that LGBTIQ youth and adults are not exposed to this practice. More research should be conducted on the harmful impacts of conversion therapy on long term quality of life. States must move towards a fundamental ban against all forms of conversion therapy, hold those perpetuating the practice accountable, and provide access to redress for those who have suffered undue harm from exposure to any form of the practice.