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The United Nations has called for an end to the use of conversion therapy and characterized the practice as a threat to LGBTQ people across the globe.
Its decision came after a report released in May that documents the various forms the practice takes. The report defines conversion therapy as “interventions of a wide-ranging nature, all of which are premised on the belief that a person’s sexual orientation and gender identity, including gender expression, can and should be changed or suppressed” when it does not comply to societal expectations of gender norms.
The report, written by Victory Madrigal-Borloz, the U.N. Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, says conversion therapy constitutes “cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment,” especially when it is conducted forcibly or without an individual’s consent, and “may amount to torture depending on the circumstances, namely the severity of physical and mental pain and suffering inflicted,” reports The Hill.
The report noted that minors are often the victims of the practice, with half all conversion therapy survivors having undergone treatment as children, with 80% of survivors having undergone the practice before they reach the age of 24.
“[C]hildren most often undergo practices of ‘conversion therapy’ as a result of the desire of parents or guardians to have them conform to expectations, either theirs or their communities’, regarding sexual orientation and gender identity,” the report notes.
The report details the various forms that conversion therapy may take, depending on location. For instance, in Mozambique, lesbians are often subjected to exorcisms or corrective rape. In Vietnam, LGBTQ people are sent to traditional healers to “cure” them. In Iran, gay and lesbian people are sometimes encouraged to medically transition genders so they will be considered “straight.” And in the United States, LGBTQ people can be subjected to aversion therapy, which can include participants being injected with nausea-inducing drugs while watching erotic material in order to create a mental linkage between same-sex activity and the feeling of being sick.
The report also found that conversion therapy can be a “lucrative business” for those who offer treatments to individuals or parents of children who are struggling with their sexual orientation or gender identity. For instance, in the United States, a single episode of conversion therapy can cost up to $26,000.
Sahar Moazami, a United Nations program officer at OutRight Action International, told NBC News that the office of the U.N. Independent Expert has received “a lot of pushback from a number of states” who objected to the report’s conclusions.
Moazami noted that the implications of the report are “huge,” as its publication marks the first time that the United Nations has actually addressed the issue of conversion therapy.
“We take it for granted that we can speak about these things openly, or even to have the language to express that ‘I experienced conversion therapy,'” Mozami said.
Currently, five countries — Malta, Ecuador, Brazil, Taiwan, and Germany — ban the practice outright.
In the United States, 20 states and several cities or counties have banned the practice on minors. Some members of Congress have even introduced legislation that would ban the practice nationwide by having it declared a form of fraud.
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