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How Therapy to ‘Convert’ Queer People Is A Disturbing Reality Around The World

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By Amrita Singh for Cake:

Moviegoers clad in bathrobes play with non functioning electro shock therapy equipment before Secret Cinema's closing night screening of the film
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.

Many like David, have been subjected to aggressive physical coercion – electroconvulsive shock therapy, hormone castration, etc. – as a part of conversion or reparative therapy in the past and not all have survived. Conversion therapy is a pseudoscience which attempts to ‘convert’ a queer person into a straight person through counselling and psychotherapy. It’s not just parents-in-denial but even homosexual individuals who voluntarily reach out for therapy to escape the social stigma of being queer, which itself speaks volumes about the discriminatory environment in our society.

What Happens In Conversion Therapies?

Earlier electroconvulsive therapy which could lead to memory loss, hypnosis, nausea-inducing drugs while showing them same-sex erotica and other methods that easily qualify as sexual harassment cases were frequently used as part of reparative therapy. Use of such methods has reduced in comparison but mentally scarring counselling sessions are still quite prevalent. Currently, the individual is brainwashed into believing that homosexuality is caused by “insufficient male affirmation in childhood” or due to a childhood trauma 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 and violent tendencies.

No Rules

There are no set guidelines or rules under which such organisations 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 they disclosed during the treatment to the public. Look at a comparison review of The Holosync Solution and Omharmonics for some sane examples of therapy.

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 one’s sexual orientation by transplanting sex organs of the desired sex onto the ‘infected’ person and the rest followed suit. 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.”

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 most progressive countries. In the biopic ‘The Imitation Game’, Alan Turing, father of modern-day computing 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. Alan Turing’s story is one of the only ones to get coverage. It was only when people observed 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

American Psychological Association was one of the first institutes to declare that homosexuality is not a disorder in 1974. In USA California, New Jersey, Illinois, and the District of Columbia all passed legislation to ban the therapy and now 21 other states have introduced legislation that aims to do the same. Ironically, a statement has come after Israel’s Ministry of Health issuing a statement against the practice, and saidsexual inclination is part of a person’s identity  and requires no treatment or conversion”, citing no scientific evidence to support this type of therapy.

In the UK, a country that decriminalised homosexuality in 1967, according to a survey conducted in 2009, of 1,300 UK therapists 16% had attempted conversion therapy. In conservative nations like India, the little attention the problem of conversion therapy has gained has been from a well-known yoga instructor and political leader, Baba Ramdev, who 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.

Activists in China are fighting for banning reparative therapy relentlessly.

Organisations Involved – Mostly Supported By Radical Religious Groups

Most of these therapies are conducted by religious groups and are largely discredited by the medical and mental health establishment and are declared as fraudulent.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 National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) – the largest organisation that practices reparative therapy – have been accused of sexual harassment. Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH), an organisation run by former NARTH board member, has been shut after being charged for the same. Exodus International, another such organisation 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.

The concept of there being a possibility of repairing someone essentially comes from the baseless presumption that they are broken, ill. If not consumer fraud or physical harm, such practices reaffirm the myth that homosexuality is a disease that the youth needs protection from, thereby amplifying the stigma. It’s high time that people accept that the only thing that homosexual people need protection from is prejudice and not homosexuality.

This article was originally published here on Cake.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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