March 21, 2021

Translated by: Maria Galanopoulou

Conversion “therapy” (or reparative therapy) is an umbrella term that includes a series of dangerous practices based on the concept that sexual orientation and gender identity are adaptable to change in order to conform to the current dominant norms of heteronormativity.

According to the IESOGI report (UN Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity) on CT, the “treatment” promises to turn homosexuality and bisexuality into heterosexuality through various practices, while also “helping” the subjects to behave in a way that is “appropriate” for their social gender (e.g. reparation of transexuality). Directed mostly to LGBTQI youth, conversion “therapy” (CT) attempts to associate the LGBTQI identity with feelings of shame, emotional trauma, and physical pain. Even though the American Psychiatric Association has clarified –as far back as 1973- that homosexuality does not constitute a mental illness and, therefore, it is not something that can be subjected to “treatment”, the number of the victims of CT practices remains alarmingly high until today.

Clinging to the pseudoscience of CT and heavily questioning the scientific community, certain individuals who present themselves as health counsellors, psychotherapists, spiritual and religious guides continue to offer their services to LGBTQI people who, to a great extent, come from a deeply religious background, while their parents and close relations encourage their attempt at “correcting” themselves.

Organizations such as the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality, Exodus International, and JONAH are among the most famous entities in the USA that are active in the realm of CT.

However, the organizations that use CT are not solely restricted to the USA but they are highly active worldwide. It is ostensibly estimated that in Germany, 1,000 individuals per year are subjected to conversion treatments, aspiring to become heterosexuals or at least suppress their sexual attraction to their own sex. Internationally, the majority of organizations that provide CT services are closely associated with religious organizations.

A Throwback in History

The rationale behind “treating” homosexuality was born during the 1970s on the grounds of Christian beliefs. Wishing to take advantage of the AIDS outbreak in the 1980s, the “therapists” were mainly focused on the reparation of homosexual men’s sexual orientation. In the late 1990s, there were large advertising campaigns promoting the centers offering CT services, while individuals who had been subjected to treatment, namely ex-gays, were also invited to speak publicly on the benefits of CT. In the early 2000s, emphasis was put on youth and on indications of prehomosexuality, namely on behaviors that parents might notice in their children, and which might constitute signs that the child’s sexual orientation would not be heterosexual. The solution to problems of prehomosexuality, of course, would be offered by CT, which feeds on parental (and societal) fear of somebody ending up to be queer.

Only in 2020, the Independent Forensic Expert Group stated that “conversion therapy” is a form of deception, false advertising, and fraud, thus joining the list of organizations that officially oppose CT. Just recently, in October of 2020, Canada passed a bill to outlaw the operation of CT units. However, CT practices are still allowed in quite a lot of places (e.g. in certain states of the US). CT Practices and their Impact on the lives of the victims

The practices used for the “treatment” of non-heterosexual sexual orientation have been characterized as “tortures” in the letter signed by 60 members of the European Parliament in October 2020, which aimed at CT being banned in all Member States of the EU. Indicatively, CT can include physical violence, exhausting fasting, electroshock, “medical” prescription, and psychological abuse. Of course, it is a pseudoscience, based on alleged psychotherapeutic indications and, of course, having, to a great extent, roots in religion. Besides, it is typical for organizations that offer CT services to have words such as “faith”, “journey”, “hope”, and “freedom” on the foreground of their websites. The use of such terminology does not point to science and rationality, but rather to sentiment and faith.

The alleged “treatment” makes the “patients” suffer physically, psychologically, and emotionally, in some cases causing chronic and non-reversible damage. Depression, anxiety disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder are frequent conditions that afflict members of the LGBTQI community who have been subjected to CT and survived. With their confidence now chopped, full of shame, guilt, and hatred for themselves, all the victims of CT are alienated from and have trouble emotionally connecting to others. In fact, suicide attempts are no rare occurrence.

A case in point regarding the impact of CT on its victims is Leelah Alcorn’s suicide in December 2014, which actually got quite some coverage by the mass media. Leelah Alcorn was a 17-year-old transgender girl who ended her life, after having been subjected to the traumatic experience of conversion therapy and her parents’ ongoing rejection. In fact, at the place where she took her own life, there is a roadside memorial in her honour.

Furthermore, mass media attention was drawn on the movie “Boy Erased” (2018), that is based on the experiences of Garrard Conley who had been a victim of CT. Wishing to raise awareness and mobilize the public with regards to CT practices, he himself assumed an active role in the production of the movie that actually won quite a few accolades and awards, culminating in two Golden Globe nominations in 2019 (Best Actor, Best Original Song).

We hope that the global community will take the measures necessary to put an end to the torture of CT to which, unfortunately, many LGBTQI individuals are subjected – even in childhood.