Exposing queer conversion therapies and shining a light on the multi-million-pound industry

by | May 30, 2024 | Health & Wellbeing | 0 comments

Following the story of a mistreated conversion therapy survivor, Journalist Tia Inger exposes the psychologically damaging and physically violent nature of reparative therapies – which are still legal, and commonly misunderstood, to this day. 

Conversion therapy: the pseudoscientific practice of attempting to change an individual’s sexual orientation, or gender identity to align with heterosexual and cisgender norms. 

The unethical practices typically target LGBTQ+ youths into feeling guilt and shame towards their sexualities. Survivors of the scheme are left susceptible to long lasting mental health issues – whilst others don’t even escape alive.

Marketed as a ‘cure’ for homosexuality, through what initially seems to be harmless talking-therapies, conversion therapy is widely misunderstood. 

Raised in a conservative, Mormon family, Elena Thurston was recommended conversion therapy through her church when she came out as a lesbian. In a desperate attempt to be accepted back into her faith, she willingly consented to conversion therapy – unaware of her suffering to endure. 

She says, “These conversion therapies are a homophobic attack on the entire LGBTQ+ community. The schemes are disguised as safe, when in fact they’re designed to drive the queer community to suicide – it nearly got the better of me.” 

Confined to a reclining chair, her mind felt hazy. To ‘heal’ her relationship with men, she was forced to try and overcome distressing memories involving men from her childhood. A distant voice guided her to vividly remember troublesome experiences she had long ago suppressed – uprooting years of trauma. 

Conversion therapy forced her to repeatedly relive upsetting sections of her past, which caused her to develop complex PTSD and long-term suicidal thoughts. 

Thurston has undergone extensive courses of medication alongside years of therapy in an attempt to heal from the effects – yet still frequently battles the consequences 6 years later. In therapy, she was told that 92 per cent  of those who experience suicidal thoughts as a consequence of conversion therapy, will face these suicidal thoughts for the rest of their life.

As opposed to mentally or psychologically damaging strategies, some conversion therapies focus more on physical abuse. These include: beatings, shock therapy, and starvation. Some victims have claimed that they still struggle with disordered eating or anorexic behaviours as a result. 

Other unethical reparative therapies involve forms of sex abuse, including: intrusive questioning into a victims private or sexual life, forcing victims to watch explicit pornographic material or even ‘corrective rape’. Research suggests, victims of this type of sexual exploitation are likely to face difficulty with intimacy later on in life. 

Many conversion therapies are also based on beliefs that same-sex identities are spiritual or religious problems – especially since homosexuality is commonly frowned upon in religious contexts. 

Thurston was outcast from her local church when she came out as a lesbian – watching her membership rights be taken away, her job as a teacher within the church be revoked and being disallowed to take the sacrament during Sunday services. 

She says, “I was made to feel extremely isolated and like I didn’t belong amongst the church anymore. Some of my most valued, long-term friendships were made here, so I lost a lot of my support system at once. It was the loneliest time of my life.”

Many religious leaders believe homosexuality can be solved through prayer, pastoral counselling, or exorcisms, with lots of victims being coerced into reparative therapies through their faith community. Lots of victims are forced into ‘consenting’. 

Since some religious leaders associate homosexuality with being possessed by the devil, some survivors of church-based conversion therapies experienced being told that Pasteur’s could see the devil in them or even experienced exorcism rituals involving being forced into intense prayer. 

As a result of the long-lasting, harmful impacts of conversion therapies, the practices have been made illegal in Canada, Brazil, and Germany – with many other countries introducing partial bans. Nearly half of the US states have banned state-funded conversion therapies for minors; however, this doesn’t involve reparative therapies in religious or familial contexts, or procedures involving adults. In regard to the UK, conversion therapy currently remains legal – despite plans being implemented for years to try to outlaw it. 

In 2018, the Government introduced plans to make reparative therapies illegal throughout England and Wales, however the plans were disregarded. Following widespread campaigns and protests, the plans were reintroduced, yet this time didn’t cover conversion therapies involving those who are transgender.

The Government now claims they aim to ban all forms of conversion therapy, with two private members bills in the House of Commons calling to ban any practices attempting to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

However, getting the private members bill for a full, legislative ban on all conversion therapies passed, has faced challenges of being delayed for five years, by four different Prime Ministers. Recently, one bill did not pass its second reading in the House of Commons, with the other not making any further progress either. This highlights that introducing legislation to ban reparative therapies, is not a current priority to the Government. 

Research suggests that the delays on introducing legislation could be due to many people not understanding the full extent which conversion therapies cause, and there not being enough education on the matter. 

Government figures echoed by the ‘Ban Conversion Therapy’ organisation, suggest that 7 percent of lesbian, gay or bisexual people, 10 percent of asexual people and 13 percent of trans people have been offered or undergone conversion therapy. 

Many conversion therapies also function as businesses, meaning that it’s a huge money-making industry – estimated to make billions across the globe each year. These reparative therapy practitioners’ profit from carrying out the torturous programmes – relying on it remaining legal for the sake of their job and income. 

There is also opposition to getting conversion therapies banned from religious groups who believe the laws will impose on religious rights to teach traditional belief that acting on homosexual urges is a sin. In conservative, orthodox communities, the proposition to outlaw conversion therapy is scorned upon. 

Thurston added “We need the government to deprioritize religious rights and to reprioritise the right to live free from harm.” 

Thurston dedicates lots of her free time to speaking at state legislators, alongside running global social media campaigns which protest for conversion therapy to be outlawed. 

There are also an array of charities which have formed to help support victims of reparative therapies including ‘Ban Conversion Therapy’ or ‘Born Perfect’. Both organizations aim to educate people on the effects of conversion therapy as well as supporting and empowering survivors through providing a platform to voice their stories and make other victims feel less alone.