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From Shock Treatment To Yoga, Conversion Therapy Is A Disturbing Reality Around The World

01/06/2016 8:28 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:27 AM IST
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By Amrita Singh

Moviegoers clad in bathrobes play with non functioning electro shock therapy equipment before Secret Cinema's closing night screening of the film "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" in west London November 21, 2010. Since 2007, Secret Cinema has championed a new type of participatory movie event where viewers are sold tickets but not told anything about the film they are to see, only what to wear and where to meet. Picture taken November 21, 2010. REUTERS/Chris Helgren (BRITAIN - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT SOCIETY)

For representation only. Reuters/Chris Helgren.

"It is physical and emotional abuse and it needs to be called that, and groups should not be allowed to hide behind religious liberty as a veil to legitimise what they do." -- David Turner, survivor of gay conversion therapy.

In the past, many people like David Turner, have been subjected to aggressive physical coercion -- such as electroconvulsive therapy and hormonal castration -- as a part of conversion or reparative therapy, and not all have survived. Today, conversion therapy generally takes the form of psychotherapy and counselling with the aim of "converting" a queer person into a heterosexual. Even then, a person may be damaged enough by the experience to lose their life, as happened in the tragic case of Leelah Alcorn. Conversion therapy is sought not only by parents of queer children but also by LGBTQ individuals who see it as an escape from the social stigma that surrounds their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. This, more than anything, speaks volumes about the discriminatory environment in our society, and how damagingly this is internalized.

The UK decriminalized homosexuality in 1967, but old prejudices die hard. According to a 2009 survey, of 1300 UK therapists 16% had attempted conversion therapy.

What happens in conversion therapies?

Earlier, electroconvulsive therapy (which could lead to memory loss), hypnosis and the administration of nausea-inducing drugs while showing the subject same-sex erotica were frequently used as part of reparative therapy. Such methods have dwindled in popularity, replaced today by mentally scarring counselling sessions. The individual is brainwashed into believing that homosexuality is caused by "insufficient male affirmation in childhood" or due to a trauma in the early years or the most commonly used argument -- "an uncaring father and an overbearing mother". Instilling such notions isolates the individual from their family, thereby pushing them into depression by evoking feelings of self-hate.

No rules

There are no set guidelines or rules under which organizations perform these therapies, i.e., they can vary in degree from merely speaking with the clients to torturing them. The victims of such practices seldom raise their voice as that would require disclosing their non-normative sexuality as well as other private information to the public.

Where did it come from?

Eugen Steinach, an endocrinologist of the 1920s, ill-famed for his controversial experiments on sex glands, was the first to claim that he could change sexual orientation by transplanting sex organs of the desired sex onto the "infected" person; the rest followed suit. Interestingly, iconic psychoanalyst Freud, known for his sexist views, in fact, supported homosexuality openly. He said, "Homosexuality is assuredly no advantage, but it is nothing to be ashamed of, no vice, no degradation; it cannot be classified as an illness."

Well-known yoga instructor and political figure Baba Ramdev recently claimed that he could cure homosexuality with yoga.

benedict_imitation_game Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'. Source: YouTube

Conversion therapy was once upon a time sentenced by the law in some of the world's most progressive countries. The biopic The Imitation Game, Alan Turing, father of modern-day computing, showed how he had to endure hormonal castration as a means of "conversion". His treatment depressed him to the extent that he went on to commit suicide a couple of years later. Many others never made it to the news. It was only when it became clear that even torturous methods didn't have an ounce of effect that people finally began to accept that homosexuality is not a perversion.

Global scenario

The American Psychological Association was one of the first institutes to declare that homosexuality is not a disorder in 1974. In the US, California, New Jersey, Illinois, the District of Columbia and most recently, Vermont, all passed legislation to ban the therapy and now many other states have introduced legislation that aims to do the same. Recently, Israel's Ministry of Health issued a statement against the practice, saying, "Sexual inclination is part of a person's identity and requires no treatment or conversion."

The UK decriminalized homosexuality in 1967, but old prejudices die hard. According to a 2009 survey, of 1300 UK therapists 16% had attempted conversion therapy.

The idea of conversion therapy isn't unknown in India either, albeit with a cultural twist. Well-known yoga instructor and political figure Baba Ramdev recently claimed that he could cure homosexuality with yoga. Further, there is also a thriving community of doctors in India who charge exorbitant amounts of money for conducting conversion therapy.

In China, brutal forms of conversion therapy, such as shock treatment, continue despite attempts by activists to ban the practice.

In China, too, brutal forms of conversion therapy, such as shock treatment, continue despite attempts by activists to ban the practice.

Who does it?

Most of these therapies are conducted by religious groups and are largely discredited as fraudulent by the medical and mental health establishments. Dr. Jack Drescher, a New York psychiatrist who has written extensively about the conversion therapy movement has named it a "concentrated burst of homophobia". Members of the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) -- the largest organization that practices reparative therapy -- have been accused of sexual harassment. Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH), an organization run by a former NARTH board member, was shut down for the same reason. Exodus International, another such organization was shut down with an apology for the harm it caused to the LGBT community. Its president, Alan Chambers, further went and declared that 99.9% patients felt no change in their sexual orientation whatsoever.

It's high time that people accept that the only thing that homosexual people need protection from is prejudice.

The concept of there being a possibility of repairing someone essentially comes from the baseless presumption that they are broken, ill. Apart from perpetuating consumer fraud and potentially causing physical harm, such practices reaffirm the myth that homosexuality is a disease, thereby amplifying the stigma. It's high time that people accept that the only thing that homosexual people need protection from is prejudice.

This article was originally published here on cake.youthkiawaaz.com

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