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  • Disha Nevatia

The unspeakable damages of conversion therapy

Trigger warning || talk about rape and sexual assault || mention of suicide, substance abuse, depression, homophobia and transphobia.

Conversion therapy, often called “reparative therapy” or “gay cure therapy”, tries to change a person’s sexuality or gender identity. Conversion therapy often uses harmful practices such as starvation, exorcism and physical violence to “convert” a person’s sexuality or gender. In fact, conversion therapy is based on the notion that homosexuality is a mental disorder when, in reality, the American Psychiatric Association has not treated homosexuality as a mental illness since 1973, and being transgender is no longer treated as a mental illness since “gender identity disorder” was removed from psychological diagnostic manuals in 2013. In certain cases, “corrective” rape is also used in conversion therapy. Conversion therapy has often been called “unethical and unprofessional” by other professional bodies.

Studies have also proven that no mental health provider was able to provide services that changed a person’s romantic or sexual orientation or gender identity, however, conversion therapy is still prevalent due to bigotry against members of the LGBT+ community. Minors are especially vulnerable since conversion therapy can often lead to depression, substance abuse and even suicidal tendencies. According to the Trevor Project, 10% of LGBT+ youth underwent conversion therapy with 78% of the people being forced to go to conversion therapy being minors. The youth who reported undergoing conversion therapy reported more than twice the rate of attempted suicides compared to those who did not.

The American Psychological Association task force also found that conversion therapy causes a wide range of harmful side effects to participants ranging from guilt, hopelessness, social withdrawal, decreased self-esteem, increased self-hatred and substance abuse. Justin Beck, a gay man, also went to conversion therapy and spoke about how it left him “emotionally traumatised.” He spoke about how conversion therapy involved exorcisms to remove the “demons” inside of him. In 2020, a bisexual woman named Anjana Harish committed suicide in Goa after being forced to go to conversion therapy by her family. Anjana was first assaulted and sedated in the program, later she was placed in isolation and was forced to go through a heavy course of medication.

Recently, the Madras High Court in India prohibited conversion therapy which is a step forward to creating a more accepting society, however, it is not enough and more drastic steps must be taken to protect the LGBT+ community from such cruelty. It is important for friends, family and allies of the community to help the LGBT+ community fight this evil through legislation banning conversion therapy and several other ways. Conversion therapy is nothing but an inhumane practice used to abuse and oppress an already marginalized group of people and it is about time that this practise is abolished.

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