Conversion Therapy: A Nightmare Dressed as a Daydream

By Mabel Soriano, 11th Grade

Elliot Page once said, “This world would be a lot better if we just made an effort to be less horrible to one another.” This statement is unquestionably true. People are dreadful in many ways, but probably the worst is lack of acceptance. Nowadays, there has been a lot of improvement and progress defending the LGBTQ+ community. However, some political and religious organizations have adopted efforts to change sexual orientation through therapy and aggressively promote them to the public.

Conversion therapy is the pseudoscientific practice that attempts to change a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. It all started in 1899 when Albert von Schrenck-Notzing—a German psychiatrist—claimed he had turned a gay man straight through 45 sessions of hypnosis. A few decades later, Eugen Steinac hypothesized homosexuality was rooted in a man’s testicles. This theory led to testicle transplantation experiments in the 1920s, during which gay men were castrated and then given “heterosexual” testicles. 

Another well-known technique was aversion therapy. Founded on the premise that if LGBTQ+ people became disgusted by homosexuality, they would no longer experience same-sex desire. Under medical supervision, people consumed chemicals that made them vomit when they, for example, looked at photos of their lovers. Others were given electrical shocks—sometimes to their genitals—while they looked at gay pornography. 

Additionally, people received electroconvulsive therapy, lobotomies, or shocks administered through electrodes implanted directly into the brain. Scientists obtained funding from their respective governments to pursue these procedures. 

As the years went by, the practices lost their scientific aspect and became pure torture, such as corrective rape and threatening a person with homelessness. Other methods heavily relied on faith, like being prayed over as a form of “healing” and exorcisms. 

The community has always protested against these cruel and scientifically inaccurate forms of treatment. Nonetheless, the concept that homosexuality was a disease was abode by the majority of medical establishments. It included the American Psychiatric Association (APA), which considered homosexuality a psychiatric disorder.

Even though it is easier to believe that conversion therapy was a thing of the past, it has prevailed and evolved into the modern-day. The UK’s National LGBT Survey in 2018 found that 19% of those who had conversion therapy were offered it through healthcare and medical settings, 16% were subjected to it by a parent, guardian, or family member, and a further 9% from a community member. The remaining 51% reported a faith organization or group conducted the therapy. 

Every mainstream medical and mental health organization has deemed conversion therapy unsafe and inefficient. These efforts have serious potential to harm young people because they give off the message that being LGBTQ+ is a mental illness. Besides, the inability to change one’s sexual orientation is perceived as a moral and personal failure. 

Due to the negative connotations of conversion therapy, a few countries have banned these practices being Brazil the first in 1999. The following year, in 2000, Norway banned registered psychiatrists from practicing conversion therapy on their patients. In 2007, Samoa joined the list, followed by Argentina and Fiji in 2010. Several countries have introduced criminal bans for those discovered practicing conversion therapy, including Ecuador in 2014 and Malta in 2016. Also, in 2016, Switzerland implemented a ban determining the practice as a federal crime. Similarly, in 2017, Uruguay and Albania followed suit. In Spain, Murcia, Madrid, Valencia, Andalusia, and Aragon introduced criminal bans in 2017. In 2019, Germany banned conversion therapy for minors. This country also passed legislation to protect adults undergoing conversion therapy because of force, fraud, or pressure. Most recently, Canada implemented their ban in December 2021, and France followed in January of this year. 

Studies have shown that conversion therapy can lead to depression, anxiety, drug use, homelessness, and suicide, being minors the most vulnerable population. Therefore, more countries should join the previously mentioned territories to eradicate this harmful practice for good!


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