Today at the UN Human Rights Council, I made an intervention on behalf of Humanists UK calling for action on so-called ‘conversion therapy’. This was a joint intervention with the Ozanne Foundation. Here’s what I said:
‘Conversion therapy is damaging to all those who undertake it. Depression, anxiety, self-harm, an increased risk of suicide, poor educational outcomes, relationship breakdown, and homelessness are among just some of the long-term impacts. It has no scientific basis. And yet, it continues to take place. In Malaysia, conversion therapy is not only legalised, but endorsed by the Government. The passing of a new law in Hungary to ban schools from talking about sexuality or transgender issues is typical of moves that will lead to the normalisation of prejudice and leave vulnerable young LGBT people at risk of conversion therapy.
We champion the human right to freedom of religion or belief. But part of that right is that manifestations of beliefs can be legitimately restricted if they harm the rights of others. People experiencing distress over their sexual orientation or gender identity should not be exposed to coercive, medically discredited practices, even religious ones such as exorcisms and “healing prayer”. Over 370 senior religious leaders, representing all major religions, from around the world recently also supported this position.’
I asked the Special Expert (on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity) what plans he has to work with the Special Rapporteur on Religion or Belief, Dr Ahmed Shaheed, to ensure that freedom of religion or belief is not abused to maintain these harmful practices.