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More than 370 religious leaders from around the globe are calling on lawmakers to ban the use of conversion therapy to try and change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
The religious leaders, who hail from 35 different countries and represent all of the world’s major faiths, signed onto a declaration calling for an end to the practice.
Prominent signatories include South African cleric Archbishop Desmond Tutu, David Rosen, the former Chief Rabbi of Ireland, and Mary McAleese, the former president of Ireland, according to the BBC.
The declaration was spearheaded by the Global Interfaith Commission on LGBTQ+ Lives, which seeks to end violence against LGBTQ people, and considers some of the more extreme techniques used in conversion therapy — including to be a form of violence.
The document asks for forgiveness for the harm that some religious teachings have caused LGBTQ people and calls for people of faith to “celebrate inclusivity and the extraordinary gift of our diversity.”
“We’ve never had such a powerful, clear and supportive statement from so many leaders,” Jayne Ozanne, the director of the commission, told CNN.
“I do not think that any government can be deaf to the cries of survivors,” she added, noting that the therapy is still being carried out. “We need to act with some urgency.”
The commission also released a video featuring senior religious leaders, including the Right Rev. Paul Bayes, the Anglican Bishop of Liverpool.
“For too long, religious teachings have been misused — and are still being misused — to cause deep pain and offense to those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex,” Bayes said in a statement.
The declaration is particularly notable because it comes at a time when the United Kingdom is weighing whether to ban conversion therapy, as Prime Minister Boris Johnson has previously promised. The government has yet to publish details about the ban and how it would be enforced.
The call for an end to conversion therapy also comes following a controversial decision by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that struck down a ban on conversion therapy in South Florida.
The 11th Circuit’s decision strayed from past decisions by circuit courts that had allowed bans on youth conversion therapy to stand, meaning the issue of whether such bans violate the “religious freedom” of practitioners and parents who force their children into therapy will eventually have to be resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court at some point in the future.
One therapist, speaking with the BBC on condition of anonymity, stressed that any ban will have to clearly define what constitutes conversion therapy. That therapist said, for example, that they could be faced with losing their license to practice if the term is defined too broadly to include actions like recommending that a young person suffering from gender dysphoria begin hormone treatments related to their transition.
“If the government do finally ban conversion therapy, they need to be clear on what it means, because it could do more harm than good. Especially for trans healthcare,” the therapist said.
Sam Brinton, the vice president of advocacy and government affairs at The Trevor Project, which has long advocated against conversion therapy, praised the leaders who signed the declaration.
“It is incredible to see hundreds of religious leaders from all different backgrounds and denominations join together and come out against the discredited practice of conversion therapy,” Brinton said. “We hope this bold effort will send a message to LGBTQ youth in diverse communities of faith that they are deserving of love and respect and should be proud of exactly who they are.
“The evidence is clear — conversion therapy has only ever proven to produce negative mental health outcomes and increase suicide risk,” Brinton added. “We must all come together to protect LGBTQ youth in every city, state, and country around the globe from these dangerous conversion efforts and all forms of anti-LGBTQ violence.”
On Thursday, The Trevor Project also launched a new initiative, in conjunction with Q Christian Fellowship, called “The Good Fruit Project,” which is aimed at educating people of faith, particularly Christians, about the harms that conversion therapy can wreak on LGBTQ youth’s mental health and well-being. Organizers hope that the initiative will be able to eventually move people of faith closer to accepting their LGBTQ friends, family, and neighbors as they are.
Bukola Landis-Aina, the executive director of Q Christian Fellowship, said she hoped The Good Fruit Project would “address the pervasive harm of ex-gay narratives and so-called conversion therapies that for too long have undermined the Good News of God’s love in Christ and threatened the lives of vulnerable LGBTQ+ people throughout the Church and beyond.”
“Our aim is to urge Christians, regardless of their denomination or theological beliefs on sexuality and gender identity, to live up to their calling of protecting the marginalized and oppressed,” Landis-Aina continued. This calling to cultivate ‘good fruit’ in the lives of all God’s children should unite us all.”
“As a Christian and a survivor of conversion therapy, I always wished there were more resources dedicated to improving education and understanding around LGBTQ issues in communities of faith,” added Brinton. “Through open dialogue and education, we can change hearts and minds and save young LGBTQ lives.”
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