Conversion Therapy in Europe: A Legalised Torture in 2022
Author: Hanorah Hardy
Over 69 States around the world currently criminalise homosexual relations between consenting adults. This means that two billion people are being discriminated against daily in 2021 (UN News, 2022).
One such way that LGBTQI+ are subject to emotional, mental and physical mistreatment is through ‘conversion therapy’. Conversion therapies are “designed to change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, and can cause sustained psychological and physical harm to those on whom they are carried out” (HRC, 2020). Astonishingly, in 2022, conversion therapy became a commonly accepted practice in EU member states. Conversion therapies cause profound physical and psychological trauma to people within the LGBTQI+ community, so much so that UN mechanisms against torture have judged that these practices could be tantamount to acts of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment (UN News, 2022).
What is Conversion Therapy?
Conversion therapy is “an umbrella term used to describe interventions of a wide-ranging nature, all of which have a common belief that a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity can and should be changed. Such practices aim (or claim to aim) at changing people from gay, lesbian, or bisexual to heterosexual and from trans or gender diverse to cisgender” (HRC, 2020). At present, conversion therapies are carried out in various countries all around the world through private and public mental healthcare providers, faith-based organisations, traditional healers and State bodies. According to a report by the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT), practices include but are not limited to: talk therapy or psychotherapy, including group therapy, medication, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy, electroshock therapy, aversive treatments (including electric shock to the hands and/or genitals or nausea-inducing medication administered with the presentation of homoerotic stimuli), exorcisms, force-feeding or food deprivation, forcing an individual to be nude or undressed usually in the presence of others, behavioural conditioning, isolation, verbal abuse and humiliation, hypnosis, hospital confinement and beatings, and other ‘corrective’ violence, including rape (IRCT, 2020). Since 2020, only four countries have banned the practice: Brazil, Ecuador, Germany and Malta. Another four countries worldwide have regional laws and partial bans: the US, Canada, Australia and Spain. There are also five countries – Argentina, Uruguay, Samoa, Fiji and Nauru – that also have indirect bans (ILGA, 2020).
Conversion Therapy in Europe
In March 2018, the European Parliament passed a Resolution condemning the practice of conversion therapy and urged the Member States to ban it. The Parliament stated that it “welcomes initiatives prohibiting LGBTQI+ conversion therapies and banning the pathologization of trans identities and urges all Member States to adopt similar measures that respect and uphold the right to gender identity and gender expression.” It continued that it “deplores the fact that transgender people are still considered mentally ill in the majority of Member States and calls on those states to review their national mental health catalogues and to develop alternative stigma-free access models, ensuring that medically necessary treatment remains available for all trans people; deplores the fact that several Member States today still impose requirements on transgender people such as medical intervention in order to have the changed gender recognised (including in passports and official identity documents) and forced sterilisation as a condition for gender reassignment” (European Parliament, 2018). Despite what seemed like an important step in Europe towards banning the practice of conversion therapy in all EU member states, in 2022, not only do many States still actively promote conversion therapy as a legitimate form of medicine, but there has also been an incredibly worrying shift in anti-LGBTQI+ actions in member states such as in Poland and Hungary rolling back on laws protecting LGBTQI+ people and their rights.
Different practices of conversion therapy exist in Europe at present. The IRCT’s report on Conversion Therapy found that method has been used in France, Russia and Turkey. There were also reports from Russia, saying that practice has often been administered by force. They reported that psychotherapeutic measures to change the sexual orientation of some people had also been taken in Austria, Germany, Italy, Poland, Russia, Switzerland, Turkey, Uganda, Ireland and the United Kingdom (IRCT, 2020). In Russia, Human Rights Watch reported that psychologists often attribute all of the individuals’ problems to their sexual orientation or gender identity, leaving their real issuesunaddressed and resulting in attempted conversion efforts instead (Human Rights Watch, 2020). Another prevalent method of conversion therapy in Europe was exorcisms and ritual cleansing, according to the report. These were documented in France, Germany, Russia, Spain, and the United Kingdom. Conversion therapy is frequently carried out in religious settings. A notable example is the organisation Core Issues Trust that operates in Belfast, Northern Ireland, registered with the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland. Core Issues describes itself as “a non-profit Christian ministry supporting men and women with homosexual issues who voluntarily seek change in sexual preference and expression” (Core Issues Trust, 2022). Many civil society organisations and politicians have called for it to be stripped of its charity status due to the explicit and implicit harm it does to LGBTQI+ people in Northern Ireland. While only brief examples of conversion therapy still exists, it highlights how prevalent and normalised the practice is in European society. Conversion therapy bolsters much stigmatism against the LGBTQI+ community in Europe and serves to harm the community explicitly and implicitly.
While the situation in Europe reported in this article seem bleak, there has been a myriad of hope brought through the work carried out by campaigners, civil society organisations and the fact that some European countries putting an outright ban on conversion therapy. For example, thanks to the tireless efforts of campaigners in the UK, the British government has now published a detailed proposal to ban conversion therapy. Similar proposals and campaigns have also appeared in Ireland, and just at the end of last year, France’s Senate overwhelmingly voted in favour of a ban on LGBT conversion therapy (Euronews, 2021). Conversion therapy is an attack on human integrity, and one should not be made to feel that they cannot be who they are in Europe. The campaigns mentioned above are just a few of many, and they serve as hope for the future that conversion therapy will be outlawed and Europe will become a more free and inclusive space for LGBTQI+ people.
Human Rights Campaign (2020). The Lies and Dangers of Efforts to Change Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity. HRC Foundation. https://www.hrc.org/resources/the-lies-and-dangers-of-reparative-therapy
Human Rights Watch (2018). No Support – Russia’s “Gay Propaganda” Law Imperils LGBT Youth. Human Rights Watch.
The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (2020). Curbing Deception – A world Survey of Legal Restrictions and of So-Called Conversion Therapies. ILGA. https://ilga.org/Conversion-therapy-global-research-ILGA-World-curbing-deception-february-2020
International rehabilitation council for torture victims (2020) It’s Torture Not Therapy. IRCT. https://irct.org/uploads/media/IRCT_research_on_conversion_therapy.pdf
Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity (2020). Practices of so-called “conversion therapy”. Human Rights Council. https://undocs.org/A/HRC/44/53
E-001339-18. LGBTQI+ conversion therapies. European Parliament, Council of the European Union. https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/E-8-2018-001339_EN.html
2 March 2018
P-003214/2021. Banning conversion therapies in the EU. European Parliament, Council of the European Union.https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/P-9-2021-003214_EN.html
P8_TA(2018)0056. Situation of fundamental rights in the EU in 2018.
Euronews (2021, December 18). ‘There is nothing to cure’: Senators back ban on LGBT ‘conversion therapy’ Euronews.https://www.euronews.com/2021/12/08/there-is-nothing-to-cure-senators-back-ban-on-lgbt-conversion-therapy
France 24 (2020, May 16) Albania becomes third European country to ban gay ‘conversion therapy’ France 24. https://www.france24.com/en/20200516-albania-becomes-third-european-country-to-ban-gay-conversion-therapy
Stonewall (2017). ‘Conversion Therapy’. Stonewall.https://www.stonewall.org.uk/campaign-groups/conversion-therapy
United Nations (2022, February 18). One UN human rights expert’s fight to eliminate ‘conversion therapies’. UN News. https://news.un.org/en/story/2022/02/1112242
Core Issues Trust (2022, March 11) Available at: https://www.core-issues.org/