Religious Leaders Globally Call For Ending Conversion Therapy

A Rainbow Flag, part of an LGBTQ Pride March in Denver this past June, passes the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, the seat of that city's Catholic archdiocese, part of a worldwide denomination that remains resistant to queer rights advances.
Reuters/ Kevin Mohatt

Hundreds of religious leaders are demanding a global ban on conversion therapy as well as an end to violence against LGBTQ people.

The Global Interfaith Commission on LGBT+ Lives, a faith-based advocacy group, released the letter on December 16. The declaration has garnered worldwide support, with more than 370 signatures to date.

“We acknowledge with profound regret that some of our teachings created and continue to create oppressive systems that fuel intolerance,” Dr. Mary McAleese, a Catholic academic and former president of Ireland, said in a video on the campaign’s site.

Hundreds from faith communities denounce dangerous coercive efforts to stifle sexual orientation, gender identity, expression

McAleese added, “This has led and continues to lead to the rejection and alienation of many by their families, their religious groups, and their cultural communities.”

The newly launched organization tackles the discrimination facing queer people in religious settings. The group is managed by the Ozanne Foundation, a UK-based policy organization, focused on sexuality, gender, and religion.

An excerpt from the declaration reads: “We ask for forgiveness from those whose lives have been damaged and destroyed on the pretext of religious teaching. We believe that love and compassion should be the basis of faith and that hatred can have no place in religion.”

Conversion therapy is a widely denounced and outdated practice claiming to change a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. During such therapy sessions, religious texts are often used as a tool to shame and suppress LGBTQ identities.

Twenty states in the US including New York have banned conversion therapy for minors, reports the Movement Advancement Project, a policy think tank on sexuality and gender. At least 26 states in the US have no policies or laws against it.

On a local level, legislation varies.

Last year, the New York City Council repealed the city’s ban on the practice. Legislators said the reversal was to halt a potential Supreme Court lawsuit. An Orthodox Jewish psychotherapist, David Schwartz, filed a federal case against the city, claiming the ban violated his free speech and religious beliefs. Supporters of banning conversion therapy were concerned that the city’s law — which banned the practice outright, rather than just shielding minors from such therapy — made it more vulnerable to legal challenge than other prohibitions that have been justified, in part, on the protection of youth and their rights and well-being.

In the past, conversion therapists used electric shocks to repress a person’s sexual attraction and gender expression. Now, the practice more commonly uses talk therapy. A large number of accredited health organizations, including the American Psychological Association, have released statements opposing the practice.

Last month, Gay City News reported that while most bans on conversion therapy have been upheld in court, a recent decision by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, ruling on two local ordinances in Florida, came to a different conclusion. There, two judges appointed by President Donald Trump found that since the treatment at issue was talk therapy, the First Amendment rights of practitioners were violated. With other courts of appeals upholding conversion therapy bans in New Jersey and California, it is possible that the split in views could elevate the issue to the US Supreme Court at a time when conservatives have achieved a six to three majority.

The UCLA’s William’s Institute, a LGBTQ policy organization, released a report last June estimating that 700,000 LGBTQ adults have received conversion therapy.

Eliminating this practice among accredited mental health professionals comes down to erasing stigma.

In the video’s final message, Bishop Paul Bayes, a leader at the Global Interfaith Commission and the Anglican bishop of Liverpool, England, asked the world to celebrate the “gift of our diversity.”

The declaration can be read in full here.

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