The Fight to End Conversion Practices in Africa

OutRight Action International has been actively involved in countering and challenging conversion practices globally. The term conversion therapy is most widely used to describe practices attempting to change, suppress or divert one’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. 

In 2019, due to the widespread prevalence of conversion practices and their negative impact on LGBTQ people in Africa, OutRight partnered with three organizations: The Initiative for Equal Rights (TIERS) in Nigeria, galck+ in Kenya and Access Chapter 2 in South Africa. Together, we embarked on a project to document and end conversion practices. 

Read a summary of our findings
Read the reports from each organization

The objectives of the project include:

  • Build a body of knowledge, data, and evidence on conversion practices in Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa.
  • Raise awareness at national, regional, and international levels on the negative impact of these practices.
  • Create a broad base of support among relevant actors who condemn these harmful practices and are willing to work towards protecting LGBTQ people who are subjected to them.
  • Our partners reached out to LGBTQ respondents through online surveys, face-to-face interviews, and focus group discussions. There were a total of 2,970 respondents from three countries, with 2,011 in Nigeria, 626 in Kenya, and 333 in South Africa. 
  • In Kenya, galck+ also interviewed 20 conversion practitioners, including both mental health practitioners and religious leaders. In Nigeria, TIERS interviewed 24 lecturers of psychology from eight universities and 16 religious leaders from various denominations. 

Our data led us to identify key findings that apply to all three countries:

  • More than half of the respondents indicated that they had undergone some form of conversion practices. 
  • Respondents were subjected to talk therapy, exorcism, drinking herbs, prayer, laying of hands for healing, beatings, and rape or another form of sexual assault. 
  • Several forms of conversion practices were combined either simultaneously or over different periods.
  • Practices against LGBTQ individuals increase in intensity from the moment of discovery, starting with family talks, progressing to counseling or prayer, and then to violence, economic duress, and/or ostracization when other methods did not work.
  • Conversion practices are often perpetuated over a long period of time and usually do not conclude until a person says they identify as heterosexual and/or cisgender. 
  • Religious leaders, mental health practitioners, and family members were found to be the main perpetrators of conversion practices, while family members were found to be the main initiators of conversion practices. 
  • The data also revealed that some LGBTQ individuals sought out these practices themselves, including 30% of respondents in South Africa, 23% in Nigeria, and 14% in Kenya. 
  • The research found that many survivors suffer from depression, social anxiety, substance abuse, and suicidal feelings. 

With all of this, the public can add its voice to ongoing calls to challenge these exceedingly cruel practices. But the first step is recognizing the negative impact that these have on LGBTQ lives.