MEPs condemn LGBT conversion therapy in appeal to European Commission

In a letter to commissioners Věra Jourová, Helena Dalli and Stella Kyriakides, the deputies describe the practice as “torture” and emphasise the need for an EU-wide ban.

By Lorna Hutchinson

Lorna Hutchinson is Deputy Editor of The Parliament Magazine

12 Oct 2020

More than sixty Members of the European Parliament have signed a letter to three European Commissioners, demanding a Europe-wide ban on so-called “conversion therapy” practices.

According to a report presented to the UN Human Rights Council in June, “conversion therapy” is an umbrella term to describe interventions of a wide-ranging nature, all of which have in common the belief that a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity (SOGI) can and should be changed.

Such practices aim at changing people from gay, lesbian or bisexual to heterosexual and from trans or gender diverse to cisgender.

The report says that young people are disproportionally subjected to practices of “conversion therapy,” with a recent global survey suggesting that 4 out of 5 persons subjected to them were 24 years of age or younger at the time and, of those, roughly half were under 18 years of age.

In the letter to commissioners Jourová, Dalli and Kyriakides, penned by Parliament’s Intergroup on LGBTI Rights, the MEPs explain that there is no way to classify the practice of conversion therapy other than “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment that seeks to correct something that warrants no fixing – a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity and/or expression.”

“They constitute a highly discriminatory practice that violates the human rights of LGBT persons and which causes severe physical and psychological suffering to its victims.”

“They constitute a highly discriminatory practice that violates the human rights of LGBT persons and which causes severe physical and psychological suffering to its victims”

The MEPs note that the practice is used in over 69 countries worldwide, including EU Member States, where use of medication has been reported in France, psychotherapy is reported to have been used in Austria, Italy and Poland, and even exorcisms/ritual cleansing are said to have taken place in France and Spain.

“Notably, LGBT youth is at severe risk of torture due to these practices, given the role that family and caretakers often play in coercing victims to undergo them.”

The deputies point out that their call is all the more urgent when - as recognised by the recent European Parliament resolution on Article 7 concerning Poland – the Polish Episcopate recently endorsed the idea of “conversation camps” in Poland for LGBT persons.

“This endorsement is yet another in a row of anti-LGBT rhetoric that has plagued Poland since 2019. It is, in addition, in clear contravention of EU values, the European Charter of Fundamental Rights and the principle of non-discrimination. No such ‘conversion’ practices exist for heterosexual or cisgender persons.”

The MEPs point out that currently only Germany, Malta and some parts of Spain have banned conversion therapy practices and other Member States like France are planning to follow in their footsteps.

“However, as several Member States are not considering adopting such legislation in the near future, and in the absence of a Horizontal Anti-Discrimination Directive, which would have made discrimination on sexual orientation grounds in health matters illegal, the European Commission has a responsibility to act.”

“It is in clear contravention of EU values, the European Charter of Fundamental Rights and the principle of non-discrimination. No such ‘conversion’ practices exist for heterosexual or cisgender persons”

The letter adds that given the shared competence of the EU in public health under Article 168 of the Treaty, and in the area of freedom, security and justice under Article 83 of the Treaty, the Commission could legislate on this matter.

In conclusion, the MEPs ask commissioners Jourová, Dalli and Kyriakides, who are responsible for Values and Transparency, Equality, and Health and Food Safety respectively, whether they condone the practice of conversion therapies and whether the Commission will initiate a legislative proposal putting in place an EU-wide ban on any form of conversion therapy.

They also ask whether, should the Commission fail to initiate legislation in this area, what concrete actions has it undertaken until now and which actions is it currently undertaking or planning to in future in order to support Member States in banning this practice.

Several of the letter’s signatories made separate remarks on the appeal to the Commission. Irish Greens/EFA deputy Grace O’Sullivan said, “the message to the Commission is clear: ‘conversion therapy’ = torture.”

“Proud to sign this letter with the LGBTI Intergroup on the need to ban this practice. The time to act is now!”

Dutch Renew Europe MEP Sophie in t’ Veld said, “Together with many fellow MEPs, I am appealing to the European Commission to introduce an EU-wide ban on ‘gay healing.’ This cruel practice can even be classified as torture, according to the UN.”

French Greens MEP Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield said, “Without delay, let's ban this torture everywhere in Europe”, a sentiment echoed by German S&D member Birgit Sippel who asked, “Is the European Commission going to adopt an EU-wide ban? Time to act now.”

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