Writer: Tony Chan
Editor: Tonwaan Apiratikiat
Graphic Designer: Benedicta Shafira
TW: Rape, sexual abuse, suicide
Conversion therapy, or reparative therapy, is commonly defined as a pseudoscientific and dangerous method of forcefully transitioning a person’s sexual orientation from a sexuality or gender identity that is under the umbrella term of LGBTQ+ to heterosexual. This practice was first introduced in the late 19th century, when the scientific community first attempted to label homosexuality under medical terms. Some saw it as pathological, which led them to attempting to “cure” it. Albert von Schrenck-Notzing was seen as the man who kicked off the unfortunate movement of conversion therapy when he claimed he was able to manipulate a man’s sexuality after 45 hypnotic sessions at a psychiatry conference.
Unfortunately, conversion therapy continues to this day. The UCLA Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Law and Public Policy reported that as of 2018, almost 700,000 LGBTQ+ adults have undergone conversion therapy. According to the Trevor Project National Survey, in the US, almost one in every ten LGBTQ+ youth has experienced conversion therapy, and 78% of those were forced to take part in this practice before turning 18. Subjecting the youth to such practices during these crucial development periods heavily affects one’s psychological growth in ways that are permanent and unrepairable later on in life.
Conversion therapy leads to life-long internal conflict that may cause identity crisis and a sense of shame in regards to their orientation and sexuality. Many of the youth that have gone through conversion therapy claim to have suffered mental health issues, as well as increased anxiety and a lower self-esteem. For those who were forced to undergo conversion therapy, they were six times more likely to report high levels of depression, three times more likely to use illegal drugs and were much more likely to contract HIV and STDs, according to the Human Rights Campaign Organization. This could subsequently lead to more harmful and self-destructive behavior that could deeply impact their ability to live their lives normally.
The pressure this has put on the LGBTQ+ youth is irrefutable, as conversion therapy not only denies their identity but also their entire existence. Conversion therapy convinces the youth that they do not truly belong as who they are and have to conform to heteronormative ideals in order to be accepted. With the LGBTQ+ community already being such targeted members of our society, continuing this practice only provides further fuel for homophobia and transphobia.
Protesters in Michigan, USA, come out in support of LGBT+ rights. Jim West/Alamy
To truly understand the full extent of conversion therapy, we must understand the methods used by both licensed professionals and unlicensed ministries to “treat their condition”. One of the most common techniques is “talk therapy”, where ‘therapists’ would use psychological manipulation and gaslighting to convince the individuals that they are delusional. These supposed professionals would repeatedly attempt to persuade the targeted youth that their sexual identity or gender orientation was only as a result of their environment or their traumatic experiences.
It is essentially brainwashing the minds of the impressionable youth and instilling internalized homophobia into their vulnerable psyches. As we should all know, achieving any sense of validation for your identity whilst being in the LGBTQ+ community is already a momentous challenge. If we put already struggling youth in a position where they are forced to doubt who they are every moment of their lives, they will be mentally and emotionally drained and their will to live will be gradually stirpped away. In fact, suicide rates are doubled due to people coercing the youth to change their seuxal orientation or gender identity.
Corrective rape, where lesbians are sexually assaulted and raped by straight men in an attempt to force heteronormality upon them, is known as one of the most dangerous practices in conversion therapy. It is still highly popular in countries, such as India and South Africa, where homophobia is still widespread. According to the Crisis Intervention team of LGBT Collect in Andhra and Telangana, there were 15 cases of ‘corrective rape’ in the last 5 years. Usually the corrective rape is planned and carried out by the family members of the victim in order for the family to evade any legal reprecussions, as it would be frowned upon by the family for the victim to report their own family to the police. Without any method of fighting back or defending themselves in said predicaments, these victims are left completely powerless. Many that were subjected to these abusive methods of conversion therapy often find it too far too traumatizing to revisit these memories. Due to the fact that they were forced to be the victim of their close family members, such as their brothers or cousins, these sorts of cases usually go unreported.
These acts are a complete violation of the trust that the victim puts in their family – the trust that they had for their family to have their interests at heart and to take care of them. Members of the LGBTQ+ community should not be the victims of family members turned rapists that sexually assault them senselessly for the sake of heteronormativity. It is a basic human right to be able to feel safe within one’s family.
The worst aspect of all of this is that conversion therapy is usually done under full acknowledgement from the parents or the guardians, with parents or caregivers making up 35% of those who send the LGBTQ+ to conversion therapy. For example, many Indian parents believe that conversion therapy is necessary to “curing” and “fixing” homosexuality, even though it has been proven time and time again by the scientific community that homosexuality is not a mental disorder, and does not require treatment of any sort. There is empirical evidence that has shown that homosexuality, trans and the non-binary gender identity are normal variations of human identity and expression.
Despite all of this, as of 2021, only seven countries, such as Germany and Brazil, have direct bans in their legislation forbidding the practice of conversion therapy, and more ‘developed’ countries still struggle to execute complete policies against conversion therapy. The United States only has regional bans in place in 20 out of 50 states, and the United Kingdom continues to struggle to properly pass a ban in Parliament, despite it promising its constituents to have a ban passed swiftly 2 years prior.
Luckily, this practice has already been discredited by the World Health Organization and nearly 60 health associations from over 20 countries. This will certainly put pressure on other nations to make changes to their laws to ensure that conversion therapy becomes illegal. It is paramount that these inhumane practices of conversion therapy be suspended around the world before they cause any further harm to the LGBTQ+ youth.
Conversion therapy is a harmful and traumatizing practice against the LGBTQ+ community that has no reason to still be in use in our modern day society. A threat to the life of an LGBTQ+ member somewhere in the world is a threat to the entirety of the LGBTQ+ community everywhere.