It was not until relatively recently that LGBTQ identities were declassified as mental illnesses. In 1992, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that “sexual orientation by itself is not to be classified as a disorder.”
LGBTQ identities have historically been misclassified due a “…combination of fear, stigma, and misunderstanding,” said Dr. Jennifer Conti, a fellow at Physicians for Reproductive Health.
In 2001, a report from then-U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher stated that “there is no valid scientific evidence that sexual orientation can be changed.”
Medical thought around the globe is changing as well, with backlash against gay conversion therapy gaining pace.
This March, the European parliament denounced conversion therapy, calling EU members to ban the practice.
“There isn’t any evidence to support gay conversion therapy being a positive thing,” said Dr. Louise Theodosiou, a psychiatrist at Britain’s Royal College of Psychiatrists.
“We clearly feel that the treatment we offer should be evidence-based,” Dr. Theodosiou told Reuters.
In July, the British government said it would seek to outlaw conversion therapy.
Despite the shift in medical thought, there are still 36 states that lack laws banning conversion therapy for minors. This translates to 68 percent of the American LGBTQ population living in states with no laws banning conversion therapy for minors.
Practitioners of conversion therapy argue that it is an expression of religious freedom. One practitioner said to Reuters said that conversion therapy “was a made-up term coined by LGBTQ activists to demean professional therapists who use professional, licensed therapy for clients whose homosexual feelings have arisen by emotional and/or sexual abuse. It’s not for people who believe they were born gay.”
The U.S. Supreme Court nonetheless ruled against challenges to California’s conversion therapy ban for minors, outlawing the practice in 2012. Similar restrictions are now in place in Vermont, New Mexico, Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico and the District of Columbia.
Country bans on conversion therapy are rarer. A notable case that overturned a country ban was when Brazilian federal judge Waldemar de Carvalho ruled in 2017 that homosexuality could be considered a disease.
Lucas Ramon Mendos, author of the 2017 State-Sponsored Homophobia report from the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association (ILGA), said that the archaism of conversion therapy underlies belies its global presence.
“(Conversion therapy centers) are just internment camps for young kids and teenagers to ‘straighten up’, so to speak, and to be rectified in their orientation,” he said.
“We would have thought this is something from the past, but it is still happening as we speak.”