European Buddhists call for a ban on ‘conversion therapy’
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 (also known under different names such as ‘gay cure therapy’ or ‘correction therapy’).
In their declaration ‘Conversion therapy has no place in the modern medical and spiritual world’ European Buddhists ask spiritual leaders/teachers worldwide to ban conversion therapy and commit to certain ethical standards in order to avoid spiritual abuse.
Everyone who wants to make an end to this immoral practice can click here to sign the declaration too.
By sharing the declaration and/or adding your signature, you will:
- increase awareness of the dangers of conversion therapy and protect people from being exposed to it,
- make others aware of the suﬀering 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.
The idea for the declaration originated at the United Nations, at a conference organised by the UN Independent Expert on SOGI (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity) in Geneva in January 2017. To honour this, the official launch of the declaration is tomorrow, 1st of March 2018, the United Nations Day of Zero Discrimination.
Dr Michael Vermeulen: “Some slogans used by conservative Christians – such as ‘pray away the gay’ – are a shocking paradox to Buddhists. In Buddhism, spirituality is about praying away our hatred, greed and prejudices, not our differences (gay or otherwise). Associating prayer and spirituality with the elimination of others is an oxymoron to Buddhists, and I’m sure to many other spiritual leaders too. True spirituality is about cultivating friendliness and non-violence, not hatred and aggression.”
(Michael represented the European Rainbow Sangha network of the EBU and GLADD, the UK LGBT association of doctors and dentists, at the UN meeting)
In here you can:
- download the declaration: in English, or in Spanish)
- download more background information: in English, or in Spanish)
What is conversion therapy?
” 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)
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 which aims to destroy part of their identity. It is grounded in the idea that only a heterosexual identity is normal and falsely claims that other identities can ‘cured’ or ‘repaired’.
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). The practice is not limited to the USA. Conversion therapy is also performed in the EU and the rest of the world.
What can science tell us about conversion therapy?
Conversion therapy has no medical justification. Being gay, lesbian or trans is not an illness and therefore conversion therapy has been labelled by doctors as “a cure for an illness that does not exist”. Furthermore, scientific research concluded there is no reliable evidence that such therapies ever worked, while there is clear evidence that they can cause harm. They also lead to increased stigmatisation and social exclusion.
Worldwide, leading medical organisations such as the World Psychiatric Association, PAHO (the Pan American Health Organisation of the World Health Organisation) and several other major professional medical organisations worldwide have spoken out clearly and unambiguously against conversion therapy.
What do religions have to do with a ‘therapy’?
The motivation for conversion therapy and its pathologising of sexual and gender diversity – although expressed in a medical vocabulary – is almost exclusively religious. The signatories of the declaration state that hose religious leaders and spiritual professionals who do not accept certain sexual orientations or gender identities should present this as such: a moral judgment based on their world-view, not on science. It is deceitful to use medical vocabulary to make your point if it is not supported by medical science.
Furthermore, many conversion ‘therapists’ are non-medically trained religious leaders and most religious leaders do not have the academic training to define medical illness or set standards for professional therapy. The Williams Institute estimates some 77 000 youth will receive conversion therapy in the USA before the age of 18 and about 57 000 of these will be performed by ‘a religious or spiritual advisor’.
Finally, there is no deontological code for spiritual practitioners. Medicine and spirituality have positive connotations and are associated with taking care of others. But that does not make them immune to abuse. The medical profession has the ‘Hippocratic Oath’ as a deontological guideline to avoid medical abuse, but there is no equivalent to this for spiritual practitioners.
Using religious power and authority to expose people to a ‘therapy’ that does not meet professional standards, is proven not to work and can lead to severe harm, is a form of spiritual abuse.
Why this declaration?
As conversion therapy is often taking place in a religious context, initiatives to halt conversion therapy that include religions are more likely to be effective.
The declaration underlines the shared responsibility spiritual and medical professionals have to protect those who are vulnerable and seek their help from harmful interventions. They share a duty to ensure that their needs are addressed in safe and confidential ways that respect their identity and human dignity. This may sound logical, but is unfortunately not always the case. Therefore, European Buddhists invite all religions and beliefs to join them in condemning conversion therapy and endorsing this declaration.
Below you will find:
- The text of the declaration (you can also download the declaration here: in English, or in Spanish)
- A list of endorsing organisations and some personal signatories (click here to see the list of the original endorsing organisations and individual signatories)
- A document with background information (you can also download the background information here: in English, or in Spanish)
1. DECLARATION 1 MARCH 2018
” Conversion therapy has no place in the modern medical and spiritual world “
Part A: ‘Statement against conversion therapy’
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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’
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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.
2: Endorsing organisations and personal signatories to the declaration
A. Original endorsing Buddhist 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)
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