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Conversion therapy is an abhorrent pseudo-medical or religious practice that seeks to change someone’s sexual orientation from LGB to ‘straight’ and/or from being transgender to cisgender (non-transgender). 

It occurs in nearly every country in the world and often amounts to torture, according to Victor Madrigal-Borloz. Madrigal-Borloz is the United Nations independent expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity (IESOGI).

Conversion therapy often masquerades as a legitimate collection of practices informed by scientific or religious principles and it can take many forms, including psychiatric, psychological, religious, and cultural interventions.

It is extremely harmful to those who experience it, often causing lifelong mental health challenges.

“Conversion Therapy” or “Conversion Practices”?

The term “conversion therapy” is most widely used to describe this process of cisgender, heteronormative indoctrination— that is, attempting to change, suppress, or divert one’s sexual orientation or gender identity. 

The term, however, suggests that treatment is needed for a disorder and that people can be converted to cisgender heterosexuality through such “treatment.” Neither is true. 
These practices are more accurately referred to as sexual orientation or gender identity conversion and suppression practices, or simply conversion practices. We recommend using conversion practices.

What actions count as conversion practices?

Conversion practices take many forms, including psychiatric, psychological, religious, and cultural interventions.

UN expert on LGBT+ matters suggests there are 3 main approaches to conversion practices:

  1. Psychotherapy

Variations applied include psychodynamic, behavioural, cognitive and interpersonal therapies. A recurrent method used is aversion (electric shocks, nausea-inducing or paralysis-inducing drugs) through which a person is subjected to a negative, painful or otherwise distressing sensation while being exposed to a certain stimulus connected to their sexual orientation

  1. Medical 

Practices rooted on the postulation that sexual or gender diversity is an inherent biological dysfunction. They rely on pharmaceutical approaches, such as medication or hormone or steroid therapy. In the Islamic Republic of Iran, individuals who inevitably fail at “converting” their sexual orientation will often be pressured to undergo gender-affirming surgery, in the belief that it will neutralize their orientation.

  1. Faith-based 

Interventions that act on the premise that there is something inherently evil in diverse sexual orientations and gender identities. Victims are usually submitted to the tenets of a spiritual advisor, and subjected to programmes to overcome their “condition”. Such programmes can include anti-gay slurs as well as beatings, shackling and food deprivation. They are also sometimes combined with exorcism.

Where does it take place?

The practice occurs in institutional settings such as hospitals and places of worship as well as more informal circumstances, reflecting the cultural characteristics of a given community. As a result, conversion practices vary widely around the world. The one abiding feature is that it seeks to alter the identity of LGBTQA+ people with techniques that harm, traumatize, and ostracize.

It can happen to children, young adults and adults. A ban must protect every LGBTQA+ person, whatever their age.

How does it impact the person?

The methods and means commonly utilized to implement practices of “conversion therapy” lead to psychological and physical pain and suffering. The deep impact on individuals includes significant loss of self-esteem, anxiety, depressive syndrome, social isolation, intimacy difficulty, self-hatred, shame and guilt, sexual dysfunction, suicidal ideation and suicide attempts and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. 

Conversion practices continue to promote the idea that a person’s sexual orientation and gender identity is something that can or should be changed. It is also an insult to the dignity of the individual and undermines them being accepted for who they are. Ozanne Foundation, with the support of Mermaids and others, conducted a Gender Identity ‘Conversion Therapy’ Survey in 2020 which highlighted trans people’s experiences of conversion practices.

I thought conversion therapy was a thing of the past?

Sadly it is still happening in the UK and around the world. Figures from the National LGBT Survey found that 7 per cent of LGBT+ people have been offered or undergone “conversion therapy”, with trans respondents almost twice as likely to have been offered or undergone “conversion therapy” (13 per cent). Figures also found asexual people to be at a higher risk of being offered or undergoing “conversion therapy” (10 per cent).