Members of the European Parliament’s Intergroup on LGBTI+ Rights stated that the so-called “conversion therapy” was a highly discriminatory practice that violated the rights of LGBTI+ people and caused them serious physical and psychological suffering. Such “correction” of sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) cannot be classified other than torture, inhuman or degrading treatment. MEPs suggested that the European Commission come up with legislative initiatives prohibiting “conversion therapy” and support the states in ending this discriminatory practice.
The so-called “conversion therapy” (or “reparative therapy”) refers to certain measures aimed at “correcting” or “treating” SOGI. However, the terminology used, including by some international experts, has certainly nothing to do with actual therapeutic treatment. While the term “therapy” means healing, it is clear that the practice of “conversion therapy” only leads to the infliction of psychological and physical suffering. Leading medical and psychiatric associations have denounced this discriminatory practice as unscientific, unsubstantiated and highly traumatic. “Conversion therapy” actually involves various forms of violence, disguised as “remedial action”.
“Conversion therapy” refers to a variety of activities ranging from psychotherapy to “corrective’ violence. UN’s Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on SOGI identified three main groups of “conversion therapy” practices: psychotherapy, medical and religious approaches. The latter two can include elements of physical violence. A report by the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) listed the following practices used to “change” SOGI: conversation or psychotherapy; medication; desensitization and re-treatment with eye movement; electroshock or electroconvulsive therapy; aversion therapy (including electric shock or nausea medication when presented with homoerotic stimuli); exorcism (for example, beating a person or burning their head, back, and palms while reading sacred verses); force feeding or food deprivation; forcing a person to undress in the presence of other people; behavioral conditioning (for example, being forced to wear certain clothes or to walk in a certain way); isolation; insults and humiliation; hypnosis; admission to a hospital; beatings and other “corrective” types of violence, including rape.
The International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims and Independent Forensic Expert Group (IFEG) have found that “conversion therapy” was practiced in more than 69 countries around the world, including EU member states (e.g. through medication in France, psychotherapy in Austria, Italy and Poland, exorcism/ritual casting out of the devil in France and Spain), and has long-term detrimental effects on persons on physical and psychological level, including cases of depression and suicide.
In a recent resolution, the European Parliament called on its member states to criminalize “conversion therapy” and condemned the official position of the Polish Episcopal Conference, which supported the creation of “conversion camps” in Poland for LGBTI+ persons.
MEPs noted the particularly high risks of using “conversion therapy” on younger and underage LGBTI+ persons due to their strong dependence on their families, as well as their inability to independently make decisions on medical and legal issues. Earlier, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) indicated that in order to respect the right to freedom of expression of adolescents and respect their physical and psychological integrity, gender identity and emerging autonomy, the states must abolish this practice.
Many cases of the use of “conversion therapy” remain undocumented and poorly studied, which also contributes to the reinforcement of misconceptions about the possibility of changing SOGI using this “method”. UN’s Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on SOGI called for a worldwide ban on “conversion therapy” and noted that everyone should be free from treatment without their consent.
Of the 27 EU member states, only Germany, Malta and parts of Spain have legally banned “conversion therapy”, while France still plans to do so. Some member states not only fail to consider this possibility, but also failed to adopt directives prohibiting discrimination on the basis of SOGI in healthcare.
Attempts to “cure” or “correct” sexual orientation constitute a problem not only for the European Union, but also for Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Anti-Discrimination Centre “Memorial” and the Russian LGBT Network reported about this practice in Northern Caucasus, one of the most homophobic regions of Russia, in a report provided for the UN CEDAW session. ADC “Memorial” and the LGBT Network stated that in 2019 alone three cases of compulsory treatment of LBTIC+ women in psychiatric clinics became known, as well as five cases of long-term ill-treatment, including violent procedures of “casting out the devil”, and four cases of sexual violence by male relatives in order to “correct” SOGI.
Homophobia and misconceptions about “curing” SOGI in various ways, from religious and mystical to medicinal, are also widespread in Central Asian countries. For example, in Kazakhstan, an outrageous case was reported when the parents of a man who did not accept his sexual orientation forced him to undergo brain surgery. Victims of “conversion” practices from Tajikistan shared their experiences in the documentary “Deafening Silence”. ADC “Memorial” released a report “LGBTI+ in the region of Central Asia: repressions, discrimination, exclusion” on the homophobic practices in Central Asia.