France officially bans LGBTQ ‘conversion therapy’: What you need to know

France joined US, Germany, Canada and other countries as it passed a law criminalising the use of the discredited practice to attempt to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of gay people

FP Staff January 27, 2022 13:47:13 IST
France officially bans LGBTQ ‘conversion therapy’: What you need to know

France's National Assembly approved a new law unanimously, putting into law new measures that ban so-called conversion therapies and authorise jail time and fines for practitioners who use the scientifically discredited practice to attempt to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of LGBTQ people. AP

France on Wednesday officially banned the use of so-called ‘conversion therapy’ to attempt to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of LGBTQ people.

The measure was passed unanimously by the National Assembly, 142 votes to 0.

President Emmanuel Macron praised the move, tweeting that "being oneself is not a crime".

As France celebrates this step towards achieving equal rights for the LGBTQ community, here’s a deep dive into what this conversion therapy is, the history of it and why it has been banned by several countries across the world.

Conversion therapy explained

According to GLAAD, an American non-governmental media monitoring organisation, founded as a protest against defamatory coverage of LGBT people, conversion therapy is any attempt to change a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.

England’s National Health Service (NHS) calls conversion therapy — sometimes called “reparative therapy” or “gay cure therapy” — as the attempt to change someone's sexual orientation or gender identity.

In practice, it means trying to stop or suppress someone from being gay, or from living as a different gender to their sex recorded at birth. It can include talking therapies and prayer and in more extreme forms can include exorcisms, physical violence and food deprivation.

History of conversion therapy

Conversion therapy dates back to at least the 1890s, when German psychiatrist Albert von Schrenck-Notzing said at a conference that he had successfully turned a gay man straight through hypnosis, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

At the time, being in a same-sex relationship was considered criminal, and many doctors were looking into ways to reverse homosexuality.

Some doctors, like Austrian endocrinologist Eugen Steinach led testicle transplantation experiences in which gay men were castrated then given "heterosexual testicles" from other males.

Others saw homosexuality as a mental disorder and began using psychiatric interventions in an attempt to "cure" people with gender identities and sexual orientations different from what was seen as the norm. This included the use of lobotomies and aversion therapy, in which doctors tried to make LGBTQ-identifying people disgusted by homosexuality.

In 1952, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) listed homosexuality in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). After much hue and cry and research, the APA reversed the listing in 1973 and removed homosexuality from the DSM.

France officially bans LGBTQ conversion therapy What you need to know

British mathematician Alan Turing killed himself after he was convicted of the then crime of homosexuality. Often hailed as a father of modern computing whose code-cracking is credited with shortening World War II, Turing took his own life in 1954, two years after he was sentenced to chemical castration for the "gross indecency" of homosexuality. AFP

Many countries practised conversion therapy and several people across the globe underwent these so-called conversion therapies. One of the most noted names is that of Alan Turing, English mathematician, computer scientist, logician, cryptanalyst, philosopher, and theoretical biologist, whose code-breaking skills are said to have shortened World War II by two to four years.

In January 1952, he was charged with 'gross indecency' under Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885. One must note that homosexual acts were criminal offences in the United Kingdom at that time.

His subsequent conviction led to him losing his job with the secret service. As part of his punishment, he was subjected to chemical castration.

Two years after choosing castration to avoid a custodial sentence, he ended his life at the age of 41 by eating an apple laced with cyanide. British prime minister Gordon Brown apologised for Turing’s treatment by the justice system in the 1950s after thousands of people signed a petition in 2009 and he received a royal pardon in 2014.

How common is conversion therapy?

France officially bans LGBTQ conversion therapy What you need to know

Many countries around the world have asked for conversion therapy to be banned as it is harmful and unscientific. AFP

It's difficult to know exactly how widespread the practice is. However, the practice is still widespread despite science proving that it is impossible to convert a person's sexuality.

In fact, a 2018 survey carried out by the UK government said that some members of the LGBTQ community had been offered some form of conversion therapy, while two per cent had undergone it.

A study from the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, published in 2018, said that more than 698,000 people have undergone conversion therapy in the United States, and thousands more will likely face the discredited therapy in the future.

Banned in countries

Citing the dangers of conversion therapies, many countries around the world have banned its use.

The practice has been banned in 18 states across the United States. Moreover, the US Caribbean territory of Puerto Rico has also banned it.

In Germany, under-18s are not allowed to receive conversion therapy, while it is outlawed for adults in cases of coercion or deceit.

Early this year, Canada too banned it, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeting, “As of today, it's official: Conversion therapy is banned in Canada. Our government's legislation has come into force - which means it is now illegal to promote, advertise, benefit from, or subject someone to this hateful and harmful practice. LGBTQ2 rights are human rights.”

Australia’s Victoria also banned the practice in 2021 as did Queensland, which prohibits harmful practices not only in healthcare settings but also in religious settings.

In UK, activists are urging the government to have a complete ban on conversion therapy. As of now, the government states that ‘adults who are deemed to have freely consented to the treatment’ can go ahead with the practice.

What is France’s new law?

France officially bans LGBTQ conversion therapy What you need to know

File image of crowds attend the annual Gay Pride march in Paris. AP

The legislation outlaws “practices, behaviours or words aiming to modify or repress [a person’s] sexual orientation or identity, having an effect that alters their physical or mental health” and it carries a new offence in the penal code of up to two years in prison and a fine of up to 30,000 euros (around $33,900).

The punishment can increase to three years imprisonment and fines of 45,000 euros ($50,000) for attempts involving minors or other particularly vulnerable people.

“It’s done,” France’s equality minister, Elisabeth Moreno, tweeted.

“Conversion therapies, these barbaric practices from a different time, are definitely prohibited in our country,” she continued, adding the hashtag #RienAGuerrir (Nothing to cure).

“A great victory for rights and equality,” tweeted France’s European affairs minister, Clement Beaune, who is gay.

With inputs from agencies

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