Last week one of our esteemed Youth Advocates, as part of the Right Here Right Now programme, delivered this statement to the UN Human Rights Council and the Independent Expert on SOGI (sexual orientation and gender identity). The statement was addressing the Expert’s report on Conversion Therapy; a harmful practice that aims to ‘change’ the sexuality of someone (but in practice causes severe mental, physical, and social distress). We were pleased with the opportunity to address the Human Rights Council on this issue, as conversion therapy predominantly targets young people. See our report on Conversion Therapy here.
44th session of the Human Rights Council
Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Expert on protection against violence and
discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity
Delivered by Eliot Zeballos Cadena
Distinguished Delegates, Mr Independent Expert,
It is my pleasure to speak on behalf of Rutgers, Asian Pacific Resource & Research Centre for Women (ARROW), Choice for Youth and Sexuality, Hivos, dance4life, Latin American and Caribbean Women’s Health Network and International Planned Parenthood Africa Region. As the Right Here Right Now Programme, we welcome your report on the issue of conversion therapy, and we would like to highlight your analysis of conversion therapy being, by nature, a ‘degrading, inhuman and cruel practice’ and one that creates a significant risk of torture.
There is no scientifically accurate evidence that conversion therapy succeeds in changing the sexuality or gender identity of an individual(1). There is ample evidence, however, that the effects of conversion therapy are intensely damaging to the psyche and mental state of the individual forced to endure the destructive practice. Conversion therapy disproprotionately targets youth; as your report highlights, a 2019 global survey suggests that 4 out of 5 people surveyed were aged 24 or younger at the time of undergoing this treatment and, of those, roughly half were under the age of 18. This occurrence is due to the fact that children and adolescents often lack the legal authority to make medical decisions on their own behalf(2). Additionally, since many young people are still forming their identities they are vulnerable to the influence of the authority figures around them, and thus are more at risk to bow to social pressures.
Attempts to change the sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression of children and youth is associated with multiple indicators of poor health and adjustment in young adulthood, such as depressive symptoms and suicidal behaviour, lower levels of life satisfaction, social support and socioeconomic status(3). Conversion therapy is often coupled with threats of homelessness, physical abuse, withholding fees for education, restricting the social aspect of the young person’s life, or even forced institutionalization or incarceration(4). These are all forms of punishment that LGBTI youth face, and have severe detrimental effects on their mental and physical health and wellbeing. Conversion Therapy is oftentimes initiated by parents or primary caregivers, who might believe they are helping their child; however, CT remains a deep form of rejection, which in turn increases a person’s vulnerability to mental distress.
As of May 2020, only 5 states worldwide have banned conversion therapy. This means there are still more than two billion young people around the world at risk of being subjected to continuous harmful and degrading treatment based on unlawful discrimination.
The well-being and full development of LGBTI youth must be guaranteed. This means that affirmative policies must be promoted to protect them from harmful practices such as conversion therapy. Until this happens, we are complicit in the impunity for these acts of violence.
We echo the recommendations of your report calling on states to ban this violent practice and ensure remedy and redress for survivors. We call on states to adopt anti-discrimination laws that protect the LGBTI community and break the taboo of being LGBTI, and thus protecting LGBTI youth from being discriminated against due to their SOGIE. Moreover, we call on states to forbid entities to practice conversion therapy based on their belief.
(1) Amie Bishop at OutRight Action International. ‘Harmful Treatment: The Global Reach of So-Called Conversion Therapy’
(2) National Center for Lesbian Rights. ‘Ending Conversion Therapy in Child Welfare’.
(3) Caitlin Ryan and colleagues ‘Parent-Initiated Sexual Orientation Change Efforts With LGBT Adolescents: Implications for Young Adult Mental Health and Adjustment’.
(4) Amie Bishop at OutRight Action International. ‘Harmful Treatment: The Global Reach of So-Called Conversion Therapy’.
Delivered by Right Here Right Now youth advocate, Eliot Zeballos Cadena