UN Calls for Global Conversion Therapy Ban

The U.N. on Wednesday formally called for a ban on so-called conversion therapy.

Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the independent U.N. expert on LGBTQ issues, compiled 130 submissions on practices and testimonies of victims who have experienced conversion therapy from civil society organizations, faith-based organizations, medical practitioners and individuals.

These practices, which have been widely denounced by scientists, often result in long-term negative health effects that include suicidal thoughts, anxiety, depression, substance abuse and unemployment.

Tyler Adamson, a researcher who authored "The Global State of Conversion Therapy" report, said a global ban is important to the advancement of the recognition of LGBTQ people globally. He says the ban will eliminate the practice itself, while exposing the increased amount of conversion therapies that occur in the U.S. and other Western countries, as well as improve the broader reflection of how societies view LGBTQ people.

The report by Adamson, in collaboration with the LGBT Foundation, Johns Hopkins University and Hornet, found around five percent of respondents indicated that government representatives employed conversion therapy techniques. The report also found four percent of reports involved school personnel, which Adamson said may put LGBTQ youth at further risk.

The Trevor Project in 2018 published a report titled "Self-Reported Conversion Efforts and Suicidality Among U.S. LGBTQ Youths and Young Adults."

It also found that LGBTQ youths who experience conversion therapy were more than twice as likely to report having attempted suicide and having multiple suicide attempts.

Sahar Moazami, a U.N. program officer with OutRight Action International, also said many survivors of the practice do not realize what they experienced was conversion therapy. They added a global ban would not only will contribute to ending the practice, but bring visibility to the issue.


A formal ban may take time, experts say

Adamson has high hopes a global ban will formerly pass, but said the process will most likely be slow. Many countries still allow conversion therapy, so getting a majority to vote to pass this prohibition may be difficult, he said.

Moazami also said a global ban is a complex issue and "is going to take some time." For this ban to be successful, the legal propositions need to match the cultural attitudes towards conversion therapy, they said.

"These efforts, for them to be effective and helpful, legal change has to be done in parallel with societal change," said Moazami. "The demand for so-called conversion therapy will only decrease if acceptance of LGBTQI people grows."

Moazami also said when looking at how a global ban will be structured, it is important to bring in conversations with all actors — survivors, grassroots organizers and health professionals — to develop effective policy.

Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the U.N.'s independent LGBTQ rights expert,, speaks at the ILGALAC Regional Conference in Bogotá, Colombia, on Nov. 20, 2019. (Photo courtesy of Alice Ochsenbein)

While scientists and LGBTQ activists have denounced conversion therapy is ineffective, it is still commonly practiced around the world.

"We have this archaic view that LGBT people are somehow changeable or different, viewed as less than or we completely devalue the existence," Adamson said. "It's the idea that something outside of the norm is somehow a bad thing and not to be celebrated and needs to be eliminated or hidden."

Mental health providers, religious groups and medical professionals are the top practitioners of conversion therapy, according to Adamson's study.

Casey Pick, the senior fellow for advocacy and government affairs at the Trevor Project, also said conversion therapy is used as a last resort in many cases.

"Many people likely seek out conversion therapy for themselves or their children because they don't know what else to do, and aren't aware of the risks and the science condemning the practice," said Pick in an emailed statement. "This is why it is important that powerful institutions like the United Nations prioritize speaking out against conversion therapy and engaging in public education about how to best respect the rights and dignity of LGBTQ people just as they are."

Adamson also found a majority of reports citing conversion therapy practices were from North America.

"It's really easy for us in the United States and other western countries to think 'we've done it.' We can get married, we can't get fired from our jobs," he said. "There needs to be recognition and an awareness that LGBTQ people around the world are still arrested, beaten and murdered for who they are."

Germany, Brazil, Ecuador, Malta and Taiwan have all banned the widely discredited practice. Maryland and D.C. are among the U.S. jurisdictions that ban conversion therapy for minors.

A new law that prohibits conversion therapy for minors in Virginia took effect on July 1.

This article originally appeared in the Washington Blade and is made available in partnership with the National LGBT Media Association.