Gay therapy gets shock treatment at UN

Homosexuality | Angela Lu

Gay therapy gets shock treatment at UN

United Nations headquarters in New York.
Associated Press/Photo by Osamu Honda, File

A UN panel stacked with people who oppose therapy to help homosexuals live a different lifestyle condemned the practice last month in what they hope will be the first of many “discussions” about LGBT rights worldwide.

The group of religious leaders, mental health experts, and human rights advocates gathered at the United Nations Church Center to deride the therapy, admitting only one voice in support.

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The panel organizers—Bruce Knotts, director of the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office, and Mordechai Levovitz, the LGBT advocacy coordinator—are both openly gay and shared their ineffective experiences with reparative therapy.

Of the panelists, the only support for the therapy came from an anonymous letter. The man who wrote it said reparative therapy “saved” his life. The panel did not include psychologists who practice reparative therapy.

“Let’s make sexual orientation change efforts better and more responsible, but please don’t eliminate it,” the anonymous man wrote. “Please don’t criminalize it, and please don’t say that it is a violation of human rights, because for me, it made me the person I am today.”

But the rest of the panel members had pretty much made up their minds. Jack Drescher, a psychoanalyst and member of the American Psychiatric Association, said the medical community has already dismissed reparative therapy as ineffective and possibly dangerous. The issue of sexual orientation was now just a cultural debate, he said.

In the 1970s, the American Psychiatric Institute took homosexuality off its list of mental illnesses, and most secular psychiatrists and psychologists do not practice conversion therapy. Last year, California passed a law banning sexual orientation change therapy on minors, although the law is on hold pending two court challenges.  

The panelists admitted they didn’t have evidence that sexual orientation was biologically based, and researcher Rebecca Jordan-Young of Barnard College said that rather than comparing sexual orientation to civil rights, it would make more sense to compare sexual orientation with religion: “Nobody thinks that religion is inborn, but the freedom of conviction, the freedom of one’s conscience is a better analogy for us.” 

But Catholic group C-FAM noted that the religion analogy could backfire as the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief called on UN member states to protect both the right of individuals to convert, but also “the right to try to convert others by means of non-coercive persuasion.”

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