Global Tide Turns Against Conversion Therapy, US Lags Behind

By Ethan Jiang

In recent months, countries across the world have taken a stand against gay conversion therapy. Leading the charge are Israel and Germany, which have both passed legislation to criminalize the practice.

For Israel, a leader in LGBTQ acceptance in the Middle East, the move comes on the heels of remarks made last year by then-education minister Rafi Peretz, who openly condoned gay conversion therapy. Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz celebrated the new legislation on Twitter, writing that “we will make sure that everyone, from every background and sexual orientation in Israel, has free choice and security over their identity.”

Meanwhile, in Germany, the government imposed a penalty of up to $33,000 for promoting or performing conversion therapy on minors. However, the practice remains legal for adults who seek it out freely. Experts estimate that 2,000 conversion therapies take place in the country every year. In a statement, Health Minister Jens Spahn, who is openly gay, said that was “2,000 too many.” Germany is the first state in the European Union to take decisive steps, although the EU parliament recommended a ban for all member states in 2018 in hopes of spurring broader action.

Close behind Israel and Germany are the United Kingdom and Canada, both of which have made progress towards banning conversion therapy, although official legislation has not yet been passed. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged to end the practice soon, pending further study, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a similar promise at the start of his term.

United Nations Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, Victor Madrigal-Borloz, presented the case against conversion therapy to the UN last month, calling the practice “bogus.”

In the private sector and at the local level, bans are proceeding at a rapid pace. Instagram and Facebook both prohibited ads for conversion therapy on their platforms last week. Meanwhile, Mexico City became the first jurisdiction in Mexico to criminalize the practice.

Despite broad opposition to the practice, policy in the United States has been halting and fragmented. The Movement Advancement Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to policy research on LGBTQ issues, found that 20 states representing 47% of the LGBTQ population have banned conversion therapy. No federal ban on the practice exists, and it is unlikely that one will be passed soon.

Given the potential psychological damage of this therapy, the stakes are high. According to the Trevor Project, America’s leading crisis intervention center for LGBTQ youth, “conversion therapists use a variety of shaming, emotionally traumatic or physically painful stimuli to make their victims associate those stimuli with their LGBTQ identities.”

A 2018 study from San Francisco State University found that kids who face parental pressure to change their sexual orientation attempt suicide at more than double the rate of other LGBTQ youth. Dr. Caitlin Ryan, the study’s lead author, noted that “although parents and religious leaders who try to change a child’s LGBT identity may be motivated by attempts to ‘protect’ their children, these rejecting behaviors instead undermine an LGBT child’s sense of self-worth, contribute to self-destructive behaviors that significantly increase risk and inhibit self-care.”

These findings are backed up by statements from the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association. Both organizations oppose the practice, citing a lack of evidence for its effectiveness and the risk of psychological harm.

Even as the US lags behind, other nations are stepping up to the plate. Ireland, France, and New Zealand have all proposed legislation to outlaw the practice, a hopeful sign for LGBTQ advocates worldwide.

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