Metro Weekly

Instagram bans content promoting conversion therapy

Born Perfect urged other social media companies to follow Instagram's lead

A scene from the conversion therapy documentary The Sunday Sessions – Photo: Richard Yeagley/First Run Features

Instagram has banned all content that promotes conversion therapy, a widely debunked practice that claims to help LGBTQ people change their sexuality or gender identity.

In an interview with BBC News, Instagram’s public policy director Tara Hopkins noted the harm that conversion therapy can cause to an LGBTQ person, and said that the ban would come into effect on Friday, July 10.

“We don’t allow attacks against people based on sexual orientation or gender identity and are updating our policies to ban the promotion of conversion therapy services,” she said.

“We are always reviewing our policies and will continue to consult with experts and people with personal experiences to inform our approach.”

Instagram had previously banned advertising that promoted conversion therapy, but said the latest policy change would include all content on the social media platform.

Born Perfect, a survivor-led campaign created by the National Center for Lesbian Right (NCLR) to push for bans on conversion therapy, issued a statement congratulating Instagram for the move.

“We consulted with Facebook’s team directly on creating an algorithm to help detect advertising by conversion therapist and delete those advertisements,” said Mathew Shurka, Born Perfect co-founder and chief strategist.

“These fraudulent practitioners and organizations have exploited platforms like Instagram to prey on vulnerable LGBTQ people,” Shurka said. “Removing this harmful practice will save lives.”

Born perfect also called on other social media companies to follow Instagram’s example and “actively reduce harmful disinformation against LGBTQ+ people on their platforms.”

Conversion therapy, also known as ex-gay therapy, purports to change sexuality or gender identity through a number of means, ranging from talk therapy to more extreme methods such as aversion or shock therapy.

It has been widely debunked, including by former “ex-gay” leaders, who have since come out against the practice and admitted the harm it can cause to LGBTQ people.

Read moreConversion therapy leader comes out as gay, admits it’s ‘a lie’ and ‘very harmful’

Research has found that conversion therapy more than doubles the risk of suicidal ideation among gay and bisexual adults, while transgender people subjected to conversion therapy as children are four times more likely to attempt suicide.

The American Medical Association has debunked conversion therapy and committed to pushing for a nationwide ban on the practice, saying it has “no foundation as scientifically valid medical care and lacks credible evidence to support its efficacy or safety.”

Last month, the United Nations called for an end to conversion therapy globally, calling it “cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment” and saying it “may amount to torture depending on the circumstances, namely the severity of physical and mental pain and suffering inflicted.”

Read moreUnited Nations’ LGBTQ expert calls for global ban on conversion therapy

Currently, five countries — Malta, Ecuador, Brazil, Taiwan, and Germany — ban the practice of conversion therapy outright. In the United States, 20 states and several cities or counties have banned the practice on minors.

Some members of Congress have also introduced legislation that would ban the practice nationwide by having it declared a form of fraud.

Earlier this year, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden branded conversion therapy “sick” during a fundraiser, and said he supported a ban on the practice.

Donald Trump, meanwhile, has hired advisors who have actively supported conversion therapy.

Jenna Ellis, senior legal advisor to Trump’s 2020 campaign, has previously advocated for conversion therapy, falsely claiming that it is safe and effective. She also has argued that bans on the practice infringe on the rights of parents to pursue “Christian therapy options” for their children.

Read moreTrump advisor Jenna Ellis endorsed conversion therapy and called HIV “God’s moral law”

Robert Jeffress, a Dallas pastor and member of Trump’s Evangelical Executive Advisory Board, once said that a lesbian teenager who had “seriously contemplated suicide” over her sexuality should undergo conversion therapy. He has also said that it can help LGBTQ Christians “manage their temptations” and claimed that a “heterosexual shift is a possibility for all homosexuals who are strongly motivated to change.”

The ex-gay movement has also seen several of its former leaders since come out and advocate against the idea that LGBTQ people can change their identity, whether through religious belief or conversion therapy.

Last year, one of America’s biggest conversion therapy advocates came out as gay and admitted that the practice is not only a “lie,” but also “very harmful.”

McKrae Game, the founder of Hope for Wholeness, a South Carolina faith-based conversion therapy organization that purports to change a person’s sexuality, said it was “false advertising” to claim that conversion therapy could change an LGBTQ person’s sexuality or gender identity.

In February, David Matheson, a former “ex-gay” advocate who spent years promoting conversion therapy to LGBTQ Mormons, finally admitted that the practice does not work and should be stopped.

In an interview with Britain’s Channel 4 News, Matheson said that conversion therapy “just can’t” change a person’s sexual orientation, that it “should be stopped” in the U.S., and expressed regret over the harm caused to LGBTQ people by his work.

In January, John Smid — former executive director of Love in Action, a conversion therapy organization — stated that the practice does not work and should be stopped.

Smid, who inspired a character in conversion therapy drama Boy Erased, wrote in a column for the Advocate that organizations still advocating for the practice in 2019 “blithely disregard the mountain of evidence” against it.

And in 2013, Alan Chambers, president of conversion therapy umbrella organization Exodus International, came out as gay and shuttered Exodus for good.

Speaking to Metro Weekly in 2016, he said that people should be warned against conversion therapy: “This is not something that’s going to work. This is dangerous. It creates shame. It is not something that is going to produce an orientation change in you.”

Chambers said that conversion therapy should be banned for adults, not just minors, and unlike Matheson, both he and Smid are working to make amends for the damage inflicted by their work.

Read more:

Anti-gay Russian gang inspired by ‘Saw’ threatens to hunt LGBTQ people in Europe

Montgomery County Councilmember Evan Glass introduces LGBTQ Bill of Rights

Brazilian man ‘cured’ after intensive drug therapy puts HIV into remission

Shelf Wood

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Rhuaridh Marr is Metro Weekly's online editor. He can be reached at rmarr@metroweekly.com.

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