One of the most homophobic and transphobic practices that is still legal around the world today is conversion therapy, a dangerous intervention that attempts to curtail the exploration and implementation of sexual and gender identity in one’s life.
The practices associated with conversion therapy, which are often harmful to physical and mental health, have been condemned by mental health and medical practitioners for years. The practice is used as an attempt to force heterosexuality on queer-identifying people, but primarily queer youth.
According to a 2023 report from Statista, conversion therapy has thus far been outlawed in many countries around the world including Canada, Germany, France, Spain, Brazil, Ecuador, Malta and New Zealand, but here in the U.S. no federal laws have put a nationwide end to the dangerous practice.
A 2020 presentation led by UN expert on sexual orientation and gender identity, Victor Madrigal-Borloz, identified three central approaches in the practice of conversion therapy. These include “psychotherapeutic interventions based on the belief that sexual or gender diversity stems from an abnormal upbringing or experience; medical practices rooted in the theory that sexual or gender diversity is an inherent biological dysfunction; and faith-based interventions that act on the premise that there is something inherently evil in diverse sexual orientations and gender identities.
Intense forms of therapy include acts of physical, psychological, and verbal abuse, electrocution, medicinal manipulation, isolation, confinement and more. A popular method is aversion therapy in which a person is subjected to negative, painful or distressing sensation while being exposed to a stimulus connected to their sexual orientation.
In an interview with CBC News, a conversion therapy survivor discussed the different forms of therapy that are prescribed to children and adults. The survivor recalls being prescribed four different antidepressants and sedatives with the goal “of correcting the error of [his] homosexuality.” When treatments didn’t suppress his sexuality, a doctor prescribed him with ketamine hydrochloride, an animal anesthetic.
“Without a ban, conversion practices will continue to put our communities at risk of lifelong psychological damage,” according to Stonewall.org. “The National LGBT Survey 2018 found that 7% of LGBT+ people have been offered or undergone conversion therapy. Trans respondents were almost twice as likely to have undergone or been offered conversion therapy (13%), while asexual people were also at a higher risk of being offered or undergoing conversion therapy (10%).”
Where is conversion therapy still legal in the U.S.?
As of July 2023, the Movement Advancement Project reports that around 19 states have no laws or policies in place to ban or prevent the practice of conversion therapy on minors. These states include Texas, Oklahoma, Montana, Louisiana, Missouri and much of the Midwest, Northwest, and South. The state of Indiana actually has a state law that prohibits bans on conversion therapy at local-levels. Three states, Georgia, Alabama and Florida, have preliminary injunctions in federal judicial circuits to prevent the enforcement of these therapies. Around 22 states ban conversion therapy for minors and five states have partial bans. See which states have imposed bans here.
What about the rest of the world?
Though many countries have taken some steps to ban conversion therapy, there are still a great deal more countries with no legislation for prevention. Across continents like Africa and Asia, conversion therapy is fully legal, and there has been little to no effort to regulate these practices.
The reason conversion therapy hasn’t been banned globally has everything to do with the homophobic lawmakers and populations that make up a huge part of global society. Being queer in many places still means you could serve jail time, face death, or a lifetime of violence. In many places, you can’t marry who you love or start a family, you can’t express your sexuality openly in your community. For those who think there is some sort of “cure” to being gay, conversion therapy is still a very legitimized option. Those who have endured the psychological and physical horrors of conversion therapy know that there is no cure to love who you love. Many survivors continue to live with the after effects of this imposed trauma. There is still plenty of work to do.