Global ban needed on bogus ‘conversion therapy’, argues UN rights expert

21 June 2020

“Conversion therapy” is built on the false premise that it can alter the sexual orientation of gender diverse people, and many more countries around the world need to recognize its “dehumanizing” and deeply corrosive impact, according to a UN report that’s before the UN Human Rights Council this month.

UN Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, Victor Madrigal-Borloz, will present his findings to the global human rights body, during what is celebrated across the world as LGBT Pride Month, calling for a global ban on the dangerous and deeply harmful practice.

The report lays out that the “therapy” is based on the false and wholly unscientific belief that people who do not adhere to culturally prescribed norms regarding identity, are ill, and that their sexual orientation or gender identity (SOGI) can and should be changed.

“The degrading nature of many conversion therapy practices, including physical abuse, electro-shock therapy, pseudo-medical procedures, and the use of anti-LGBT epithets and slurs, contribute to an overall dehumanizing environment towards persons with diverse SOGI”, said the independent UN expert.

Moreover, it not only inflicts severe pain and suffering but also leaves physical and long-lasting psychological damage.

“Such practices aim (or claim to aim) at changing people from gay, lesbian or bisexual to heterosexual, and from trans or gender diverse, to cisgender”, he added.

Ignoring the truth

Back in 2012, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) noted that conversion therapies not only had no medical justification but also represented a severe threat to the health and human rights of the affected persons.

Four years ago, in 2016, the World Psychiatric Association reportedly found that “no sound scientific evidence that innate sexual orientation can be changed”.

And just this year, the Independent Forensic Expert Group (IFEG) of health specialists, declared that conversion therapy is a form of deception, false advertising and fraud.

Yet, “conversion therapy” continues to be practiced in a multitude of countries, across all regions of the world.

A lucrative scam

Private and public mental health-care providers, faith-based organizations, traditional healers and State agents are all perpetrators of this intervention – often supported by family, community members and political authorities. 

“Faith-based organizations and religious authorities in particular operate in a space surrounded by blurred lines, advising the family and victim and often promoting or providing the practices alone or in partnership with others”, Mr. Madrigal-Borloz said in his report.

It is such a lucrative business around the world that “conversion therapy” is even being marketed.

Young people disproportionally subjected 

The UN envoy cites a recent global survey that suggests that 4 out of 5 persons subjected to the practice, were younger than 25 at the time and, of those, roughly half were under the age of 18. 

For example, the Malaysian Government has promoted the practice in line with adopted plans to curb “immoral” behaviours, which include same-sex relationships. 

And while it does not change a person’s sexual orientation, it does inflict long-lasting damage, including significant loss of self-esteem, anxiety, social isolation and suicidal ideation. 

Against international law

“Conversion therapy” targets a specific group on the exclusive basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, with the targeted aim of interfering in their personal integrity and autonomy. 

This contradicts international human rights law, which is guided by the fundamental principles of universality, equality and non-discrimination, making the practice “inherently discriminatory”, upheld the UN expert.

Moreover, against the backdrop that sexually diverse or gender-diverse people are morally, spiritually or physically substandard individuals who must be modified to remedy that inferiority, it may also violate the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment, depending on the severity of physical and mental pain and suffering inflicted. 

Finally, this practice also violates the right to health, including the freedom from non-consensual medical treatment.

Stemming the practice

In his report, Mr. Madrigal-Borloz called for a global ban on “conversion therapy”.

He also recommended that States ensure that public funds do not support the prohibited practices and that punishment be meted out for non-compliance.

Other proposals include that countries carry out awareness-raising campaigns among parents, families and communities on the invalidity and ineffectiveness of the intervention, along with the damages it causes.

Furthermore, nations should urgently carry out measures to protect children and young people from the “conversion therapy”.

“Pathologization, demonization and criminalization of LGBT persons play a definitive role in perpetuating violence and discrimination”, concluded the UN expert.

Independent experts are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.

UN News/Elizabeth Scaffidi
The Stonewall Inn, site of the 1969 riots that launched the gay rights movement, photographed between two Rainbow Flags in Greenwich Village, New York City.

 

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