As survivors speak out, 9 countries seek to ban gay 'conversion therapy'

Wednesday, 26 February 2020 00:00 GMT

LGBTQ activists and supporters hold a rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court as it hears arguments in a major LGBT rights case on whether a federal anti-discrimination law that prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of sex covers gay and transgender employees in Washington, October 8, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

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The United States, Canada, Chile, Mexico and Germany are among countries seeking to outlaw the treatment, based on the belief that being LGBT+ is a mental illness that can be 'cured'

By Rachel Savage

LONDON, Feb 26 (Openly) - From electric shocks to 'praying away the gay', global momentum is growing to ban so-called "conversion therapy", with bills drawn up in nine countries, a rights group said on Wednesday.

The United States, Canada, Chile, Mexico and Germany are among countries seeking to outlaw the treatment, based on the belief that being gay or transgender is a mental illness that can be 'cured', LGBT+ advocacy group ILGA said.

Worldwide, only Brazil, Ecuador and Malta have national bans on conversion therapy, condemned as ineffective and harmful to mental health by more than 60 associations of doctors, psychologists or counsellors globally, the ILGA study said.

"The main driving force (for reform) is survivors with their testimonies coming forwards," Lucas Ramon Mendos, author of the ILGA report, which said 2020 could be a turning point in the fight against 'therapies' that have ruined many lives.

"A lot of awareness is being created through their testimony," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

LGBT+ people - some children - have undergone abuses like lobotomies, castration and masturbatory reconditioning in the past, under the "legitimising cloak of medicine" in a bid to change their sexual orientation or gender identity, ILGA said.

Global moves against attempts to 'cure' LGBT+ people are gathering pace, with the state of Queensland considering Australia's first conversion therapy ban, with jail sentences of up to 18 months for doctors and social workers.

Data on the global extent of conversion therapy is scarce, but people in 80 countries told advocacy group OutRight Action International in 2019 that it took place in their country.

In the United States, some 700,000 people have been forced to undergo conversion therapy, according to the University of California's Williams Institute.

U.S. suicide-prevention group The Trevor Project said 42% of LGBT+ 13- to 24-year-olds who underwent conversion therapy reported a suicide attempt in the last year - more than twice the rate of those who did not have the treatment.

Existing bans in 19 U.S. states are limited - for example to outlawing doctors carrying out conversion therapy on children - because of stringent federal constitutional protections on freedom of expression and religion, said Ramon Mendos.

Britain and Ireland have drawn up bills to outlaw conversion therapy but they have stalled, he said, while Taiwan's government responded to a proposed ban by saying that practitioners could be punished under existing laws.

Other proposals will struggle to win political support, such as a U.S. bill which was introduced the House of Representatives in 2019 and if passed would face a vote in the Republican-controlled Senate.

(Reporting by Rachel Savage @rachelmsavage; Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit

Openly is an initiative of the Thomson Reuters Foundation dedicated to impartial coverage of LGBT+ issues from around the world.

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