" Conversion therapy has no place in the modern world "

Let’s make an end to ‘conversion therapy’ and the suffering caused by it

‘(LGBT) conversion therapy’ is worldwide condemned by doctors and therapists as “a cure for an illness that does not exist“. It has no place in the modern medical world and we believe it should also be banned from the modern spiritual world.

” I was told that my faith community rejected my sexuality; that I was the abomination we had heard about in Sunday school; that I was the only gay person in the world; that it was inevitable I would get H.I.V. and AIDS. But it didn’t stop with these hurtful talk-therapy sessions. The therapist ordered me bound to a table to have ice, heat and electricity applied to my body. I was forced to watch clips on a television of gay men holding hands, hugging and having sex. I was supposed to associate those images with the pain I was feeling to once and for all turn into a straight boy. In the end it didn’t work. I would say that it did, just to make the pain go away.”

(Testimony by a victim of conversion therapy – The New York Times, 24 January 2018)

On a scale rarely seen has a wide range of European Buddhist organisations and teachers – covering all major Buddhist schools and traditions and stretching from Sweden to Spain – expressed their solidarity with the victims of conversion therapy.

Starting on 1 March 2018 (the United Nations Day of Zero Discrimination), we invite spiritual teachers/leaders worldwide and all who want to end this immoral practice, to endorse our declaration “Conversion therapy has no place in the modern medical and spiritual world.

click here to sign the declaration as an individual

[If you want to endorse the declaration as an organisation: please e-mail the Rainbow Sangha]

He “took me into a small room then asked me to relax and focus on my breath. He told me to remember when I was having sex with a man. Suddenly I felt an electric shock. I jumped, wondering what had happened. He just smiled and told me that was how he would cure me of being gay.” 

(Testimony by a victim of conversion therapy – The Guardian, 9 February 2016)

Every day, people around the world are told they should be ashamed of who they are because they are gay, lesbian or trans. Some of them – often those living in strictly religious communities – are made subject to a humiliating practice called ‘conversion therapy’ (also known under different names such as ‘gay cure therapy’).

This ‘conversion therapy’ aims to destroy a part of someone’s identity. It is grounded in the idea that only a heterosexual identity is normal and other identities need to be ‘cured’. The ‘therapy’ is not limited to voluntary talking therapy. It can include being locked up against your will, dehumanising language, being exposed to electroshocks and other forms of violence, even ‘reparative’ rape.

Conversion therapy is not rare. Researchers from the Williams Institute estimate that approximately 700 000 LBGT adults in the USA have been exposed to conversion therapy at some point in their lives (roughly half of them when they were in their teens). They estimate some 77 000 youth will receive conversion therapy in the USA before the age of 18 (about 57 000 of these will be performed by ‘a religious or spiritual advisor’). The practice is not limited to the USA. Conversion therapy is also performed in the EU and the rest of the world.

Below you will find:

  1. The text of the declaration (you can also download the declaration here: in English, or in Spanish)
  2. An introduction to the declaration
  3. A list of endorsing organisations and original personal signatories
  4. A document with background information (you can also download the background information here: in English, or in Spanish)

By sharing the declaration and/or adding your signature, you will:

  • increase awareness of the dangers of conversion therapy, protect people from being exposed to it and empower them to stand up to it,
  • make others aware of the suering it causes to many gay, lesbian and trans people and their families,
  • make religious organisations and spiritual teachers aware that conversion therapy has no place in the modern medical and spiritual world.

1: DECLARATION 1 MARCH 2018

” Conversion therapy has no place in the modern medical and spiritual world “

Part A: ‘Statement against conversion therapy’ 

  1. We wish to state that the practice of conversion therapy has no place in the modern world. It is unethical and harmful and not supported by evidence. 
  2. Conversion therapy is the term for therapy that assumes certain sexual orientations or gender identities are inferior to others, and seeks to change or suppress them on that basis.
  3. Sexual orientations and gender identities are not mental health disorders, although exclusion, stigma and prejudice may precipitate mental health issues for any person subjected to these abuses.
  4. Anyone accessing therapeutic help should be able to do so without fear of judgement or the threat of being pressured to change a fundamental aspect of who they are. 

Part B: ‘Conversion therapy has no place in the modern spiritual world’ 

  1. If someone seeking spiritual help is in need of therapy, they should be referred free from pressure, well informed and only to confidential, safe and appropriately trained therapists
  2. The pathologising by conversion therapy of certain sexual orientations or gender identities has no medical justification and is therefore sometimes referred to as ‘a cure for an illness that does not exist’. Medical diagnosing should never be misused to justify personal and/or religious moral judgment
  3. Conversion therapy often takes place in a context of violence, such as humiliating and dehumanising language, hate speech or exposure to physical violence. Such forms of violence can never be justified, whether it is in a medical or a spiritual context or both
  4. Engaging with conversion therapy, directly or indirectly, is a failure to fulfil one of the core responsibilities medical and spiritual professionals have in common: to protect those who are vulnerable and seek our help. They need to be supported in safe and confidential ways that respect their identity and human dignity.

Download the declaration: ‘Conversion therapy has no place in the modern medical and spiritual world.’ (in English)

Descarga la Declaración: ‘La Terapia de Conversión No Tiene Cabida en el Mundo Médico y Espiritual Moderno.’ (en español)

2: Introduction to the declaration

‘Conversion therapy’ covers a wide range of methods which have in common that they pathologise certain sexual orientations or gender identities: they approach these as an illness that needs a cure. This pathologising has no medical justification and is often done on religious grounds. Scientific research concluded there is no reliable evidence that conversion therapy ever worked, while there is clear evidence that it can cause harm. It also leads to increased stigmatisation and social exclusion.

Worldwide, medical organisations such as the World Psychiatric Association, PAHO (the Pan American Health Organisation of the World Health Organisation) and several other leading professional medical organisations have spoken out clearly and unambiguously against conversion therapyIn July 2017 the (Anglican) Church of England joined doctors, psychologists and therapists of the UK in condemning conversion therapy.

Spiritual and medical professionals have a shared responsibility to protect those who are vulnerable and seek our help from harmful interventions. We share a duty to ensure that their needs are addressed in safe and confidential ways that respect their identity and human dignity.

Given that the motivation for conversion therapy is almost exclusively religious and that many conversion therapists are non-medically trained religious leaders, it is also imperative that religions join doctors and professional therapists in condemning these ‘therapies’ unequivocally.

The declaration ” Conversion therapy has no place in the modern medical and spiritual world “  asks spiritual teachers/leaders to ban conversion therapy and commit to certain ethical standards in their spiritual practice.

Everyone endorsing these principles is invited to sign the declaration. The official launch of the declaration is 1 March 2018 (the United Nations Day of Zero Discrimination)

 

Dr Michael Vermeulen,

Abbot Dario Doshin Girolami,

Munisha,

(European) Buddhist Rainbow Sangha,

 3: Endorsing organisations and personal signatories to the declaration

A. Endorsing organisations 

  • Italian Buddhist Union (National Buddhist Union, Italy)
  • Buddhist Union of the Netherlands (National Buddhist Union, the Netherlands)
  • The Buddhist Cooperation Council of Sweden (National Buddhist Union, Sweden)
  • Asociación Hispana de Buddhismo (Spanish Buddhist Association, Spain)
  • The Rainbow Sangha (Buddhist LGBTI network, European network)
  • Sakyadhita France (Association of Buddhist Women, France)
  • Centro Zen L’Arco (Zen Buddhist Monastery, Italy)
  • Amida Shu (Pureland Buddhist organisation, UK)
  • Association Reiyukai France (Reiyukai Buddhist Association, France)
  • Haus Tao, Zen meditation centre (Sati-Zen, Switzerland)
  • London Shambhala meditation centre (Shambhala, Vajrayana, UK)
  • Mandala Samten Ling, Tibetan study centre (Drikung Kagyu tradition, Vajrayana, Italy)
  • Buddhist Union of Belgium (National Buddhist Union, Belgium)
  • The committee of the Network of Buddhist Organisations UK (National Buddhist Union, UK) 

B. Some original personal signatories 

  • Stephen Batchelor, Buddhist teacher and author, France / UK
  • Ron Eichhorn, President of the European Buddhist Union , Head Disciple of the Yun Hwa Denomination, Abbot of the Yun Hwa centre, Berlin, Germany
  • Munisha, Member of the Triratna Buddhist Order, Network co-ordinator and founding member of the Rainbow Sangha, Stockholm, Sweden
  • Dario Doshin Girolami, Abbot Centro Zen L’Arco, Founding member of the Rainbow Sangha, Rome, Italy
  • Dr Michael Vermeulen, Philosopher and Medical Doctor, member GLADD, Founding member of the Rainbow Sangha, London/Brussels, UK/Belgium
  • Jamie Cresswell, Vice President of the European Buddhist Union , Member of SGI-UK, UK
  • Stefano Bettera, Vice President of the European Buddhist Union , Vice-President Italian Buddhist Union, Italy
  • Gabriela Frey, Representative of the European Buddhist Union to the European Institutions, President Sakyadhita France, France
  • Michael Ritman, Member of the Council of the European Buddhist Union, President Buddhist Union of the Netherlands, The Netherlands
  • Isabelle Huet, Member of the Council of the European Buddhist Union, Member Reiyukai, France
  • Trudy Fredriksson, Chair of the Buddhist Cooperation Council of Sweden, Sweden
  • Kurt Krammer, Founder Zendo Salzburg, Board chair of the Austrian Network of Engaged Buddhists, Austria
  • Martin Schaurhofer, Representative of the Österreichische Buddhistische Religionsgesellshaft, Austria
  • Ricardo Guerrero, President of the Asociación Hispano de Buddhismo, Spain
  • Alain Colliard, President of the Association Reiyukai, France

Click here for the list of all endorsing organisations and original individual signatories to the declaration

4: Background information to the declaration

A. What is conversion therapy?

B. The practice of conversion therapy

C. Science on conversion therapy

D. The position of medical professional bodies

E. Actions to protect the public

F. Conversion therapy fails to meet ethical standards

G. Historical background of psychopathologisation

H. The role and responsibilities of religions

A. What is conversion therapy?

  1. Conversion therapy is an umbrella term that covers a wide range of practices. It is also practiced under many other names, such as ‘reparative therapy’, ‘corrective therapy’, ‘sexual reorientation therapy’, ‘gay cure therapy’, ‘gay conversion therapy’, etc.
  2. In the narrow sense, conversion therapy is an attempt to change a person’s sexual orientation (always from non-heterosexual to heterosexual), or reduce attraction to others of the same sex. In a broader sense it is also increasingly used as a term to try to convert a transgender person’s gender expression to match that of the sex they were assigned at birth.
  3. These therapies have in common that they pathologise certain sexual orientations or gender identities: they approach these as illnesses that need a cure.
  4. This pathologising is often done on religious rather than medical grounds. It is an attempt to justify (mostly religious) moral judgement with a medical vocabulary. There is however no justification for this in evidence based medical science.

B. The practice of conversion therapy

  1. ‘Therapy’ can be a misleading term, as these practices are often not limited to talking therapy.  They can for example also include prayer, hypnosis or electroshocks.
  2. But conversion therapy is also associated with a culture of violence, both social and physical. Adolescents have been subject to ‘reparative’ interventions against their will, often at their families’ initiative. In some cases, the victims were interned and deprived of their liberty, sometimes to the extent of being kept in isolation over several months.Their testimonies describe degrading treatment, extreme humiliation, physical violence, aversive conditioning through electric shock or emetic treatment, and even sexual harassment and attempts at ‘reparative rape’, especially in the case of lesbians.
  3. Conversion therapists often lack a professional medical or mental health training and/or have no psychiatric or psychological license. They are mostly self-declared and self-taught practitioners who work in unofficial ‘clinics’, often align themselves with social and/or religious prejudices and reflect a stark ignorance in scientific understanding of sexuality and sexual health. They are more likely to be linked to a religious organisation than to a medical professional association, although in a minority of cases conversion therapists are also trained in psychiatry and/or psychology and offer such therapies alongside other therapies.

C. Science on conversion therapy

  1. Being gay or lesbian has no intrinsically harmful effect on the health of those concerned or those close to them. In none of its individual manifestations does homosexuality constitute a mental disorder or an illness.
  2. Homosexuality is therefore no longer considered a pathological condition and requires no cure. It was declassified as a mental disorder from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) by the American Psychiatric Association in 1973. It was removed from the International Classification of Diseases (DSM) by the World Health Organisation in 1992.
  3. Several professional bodies have reviewed the research around conversion therapy and confirmed there is no evidence that it works. There is however evidence that conversion therapy can cause harm: attempts to change a person’s sexual orientation is linked among other things to depression, anxiety, feelings of guilt and shame, self-harm and even suicide.

D. The position of medical professional bodies

  1. Worldwide, medical organisations such as the World Psychiatric Association, PAHO (the Pan American Health Organisation of the World Health Organisation) and several other leading professional medical organisations have spoken out clearly and unambiguously against conversion therapy:
    • “As medical professionals, we are highly trained to treat our patients regardless of their sexual orientation – not because of it. Being gay or trans is not a disease, it is not a mental illness and it doesn’t need a cure. Any proclamations to the contrary risk causing harm to our gay and trans patients’ physical and mental health and wellbeing, as well as perpetuating discrimination in society.”  (Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioner)
    • “We have always been clear that sexual orientation and gender identities are not mental health disorders. The public must know that they can access therapeutic help without fear of judgment.”  (Janet Weisz, Chair of the Memorandum of Understanding group, and Chief Executive of the UK Council for Psychotherapy)
    • “Anyone seeking therapeutic help, regardless of their gender and sexual diversity, should have access to unbiased and informed therapists who provide ethically skilled therapy.” (Dr Andrew Reeves, Chair of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy)
  1. In January 2017, a ‘Statement against conversion therapy’ was signed by several major UK organisations: The Royal College of General Practitioners, The College of Sexual and Relationship Therapists, The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, The British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies, The British Psychoanalytic Council, The British Psychological Society, The National Counselling Society, The UK Council for Psychotherapy, The National Health Service Scotland, The Scottish Government, GLADD (The Association of LGBT Doctors and Dentists), Pink Therapy and Stonewall. This statement forms ‘Part A’ of the September 2017 declaration ‘Conversion therapy has no place in the modern medical and spiritual world’.

E. Actions to protect the public

  1. In the USA, California banned conversion therapy in 2012 and New Jersey in 2013. Several appeals were made claiming such a ban violates freedom of religion, all of which were rejected by the US Supreme Court.
  2. Malta was the first European country to legally ban the practice in 2016.
  3. In Taiwan an amendment was added to the Physicians Act to prohibit conversion therapy (in effect since March 2017).
  4. In the UK, a Memorandum of Understanding was agreed between professional associations, statutory and voluntary regulators, government departments, NHS England and campaigning groups (2015). The organisations recognised a shared commitment to protecting the public from the risks of conversion therapy. In July 2017, the (Anglican) Church of England endorsed the 2015UK Memorandum of Understanding too. A new and updated Memorandum of Understanding will be published end of 2017.

F. Conversion therapy fails to meet ethical standards

  1. The American Psychiatric Association has condemned conversion therapy as ethically flawed and based on misguided moral judgement.
  2. The core value of medical ethics is to cause no harm and to offer support to those seeking our help to alleviate their complaints and problems, not to make them worse. This central principle in medical ethics is known as ‘primum non nocere’ (first do no harm) and has been part of the Hippocratic Oath from the days of Hippocrates till the present day.
  3. ‘First do no harm’ not only refers to physical well-being, but also reflects the duty to respect personal integrity and ‘otherness’ of a patient. By design, conversion therapy fails to do this, as it assumes certain sexual orientations or gender identities are inferior to others.
  4. ‘First do no harm’ also includes the right to be approached and treated with dignity as well as the right to confidentiality and a safe environment. It is not only a commitment not to harm people directly, but also a commitment to do our utmost to protect people who seek our help from harmful interventions by others. This includes a commitment to refer only to confidential, safe and appropriately trained therapists. In some communities, disclosure of someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity may raise concerns regarding arrest, discrimination, social exclusion, and physical harm.
  5. ‘Informed consent’ is another core value in medical ethics. For consent to be ethically valid, it has to be free from pressure and based on reliable and comprehensive information about the method, the risks and the effectiveness. These ethical aspects of medicine and psychotherapy are not valued in conversion therapy.
  6. The vocabulary used in conversion therapy is – by design – confusing and misleading. It deliberately mingles moral judgment with medical vocabulary, and presents itself as a ‘therapy’, while it has no backing for its views and practices in medical science. Using scientific terminology to misrepresent personal judgment as an objective medical illness against all evidence, is morally objectionable.

G. Historical background of psychopathologisation

  1. Psychiatric medicine has a long history of psychopathologisation by presenting as illnesses behaviour that is different from the medical professional’s personal convictions and preferences, even against all evidence.
  2. Such psychopathologisations did mostly originate from a world-view where every single aspect in life only had one function and one ‘correct’ application (uniformity). Left-handed persons, for example, were until recently told that the use of the left hand (“sinister” in Latin) would lead to disaster. These people were regarded as carriers of misfortune and as having a ‘constitutional defect’. Until relatively recently, attempts were made to ‘treat’ and ‘correct’ this supposed defect, causing suffering, humiliation, learning difficulties and difficulties in the affected persons in adapting to daily life.
  3. A famous example of psychopathologisation in medicine was the drapetomania mental health ‘diagnosis’ in 19th century USA, describing the “madness” of black slaves who tried to flee from captivity. These doctors believed that a slave was created by God to be submissive to his master, and could therefore have no natural desire to run away. “Whipping the devil out of them” was prescribed as a preventative measure against drapetomania. Some doctors also ‘treated’ this by prescribing the removal of both big toes to make running impossible.
  4. The historical medical pathologising of sexual orientation and gender diversity was based on similar cultural, religious and ideological biases and prejudices, but not on evidence-based science.
  5. There is overwhelming scientific evidence that diversity is the biological norm, not uniformity. Most people might be right-handed, but that does not make left-handed people ‘unnatural’. Consequently, there is also widespread consensus in biology and medicine that sexuality is diverse in nature. Most people might be heterosexual, but that does not make queer people ‘unnatural’, a ‘deviation’, or the result of ‘arrested sexual development’.

H. The role and responsibilities of religions

  1. Because conversion therapy is often practiced in a religious context and many conversion therapists are non-medically trained religious leaders, it is imperative that religions join medical professionals in speaking out against these practices.
  2. Most religious leaders do not have the academic training to define medical illness or set standards for professional therapy. Medical vocabulary should be avoided where it is not supported by science.
  3. Religious authorities obviously have the right to express and defend their moral views. It is preferable that this is done in a clear and unambiguous way. Those religious leaders and spiritual professionals who consider certain sexual orientations or gender identities to be a breach of their ethical prescriptions should present this as such: a moral judgment based on their world-view.
  4. Conversion therapy often takes place in a context of violence, such as humiliating and dehumanising language, hate speech or exposure to physical violence. Such forms of violence can never be justified, whether it is in a medical or a spiritual context or both.
  5. Engaging with conversion therapy, directly or indirectly, is a failure to fulfil one of the core responsibilities medical and spiritual professionals have in common: to protect those who are vulnerable and seek our help.

We invite spiritual teachers/leaders, religious organisations and all who agree that conversion therapy has no place in the modern medical and spiritual world, to join the medical professionals in condemning conversion therapy unequivocally.

click here to sign the declaration as an individual

[If you want to endorse the declaration as an organisation: please e-mail the Rainbow Sangha]

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