LGBT Activists: UN Should Classify Gay Conversion Therapy as Torture

By Melanie Arter | November 14, 2014 | 1:28pm EST

National Center for Lesbian Rights campaign coordinator and staff attorney Samantha Ames and “conversion therapy survivor” Samuel Brinton testified before the UN’s Committee Against Torture in Geneva, Switzerland on Nov. 12, 2014. (Photo courtesy of the National Center for Lesbian Rights)

( – The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) sent a delegation to Geneva, Switzerland on Wednesday to convince the United Nations to designate conversion therapy – psychological treatment to alter one’s sexual orientation - as a form of torture under international law.

The UN committee does not have the authority to impose its views on the issue of conversion therapy – according to an article published by Breitbart and posted on the website Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX) - but its opinion could be used in domestic court cases or in legislative debates about efforts to ban the practice.

Leaders of the NCLR’s #BornPerfect campaign - which included campaign coordinator and staff attorney Samantha Ames and “conversion therapy survivor” Samuel Brinton testified before the UN’s Committee Against Torture (CAT) to make them “aware of the dangers of convention therapy, especially for LGBT youth.”

The UN defines torture as: “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.”

“The moment the words ‘conversion therapy’ left Rapporteur Jens Modvig’s lips, gasps filled the room. We had done it. Modvig, the CAT member from Denmark, asked the delegation from the U.S. State Department how conversion therapy could still be going on in the United States in 2014,” Ames wrote in an op-ed on the NCLR website.

“Sam, a conversion therapy survivor, who had courageously testified through tears yesterday, grabbed my hand and squeezed so hard I thought it might break. We had done what we came here to do: For the first time, a United Nations committee had addressed conversion therapy as an international human rights issue. It was unbelievable,” she added.

“But, before the shock could wear off, we heard the words again, this time from CAT Rapporteur Satyabhoosun Gupt Domah of Mauritius. Then, incredible, a third time, from Committee member Sapana Pradhan Malla of Nepal. For the first time three times in the history of the United Nations, the Committee Against Torture was questioning a country on conversion therapy,” Ames wrote.

Ames testified that “as many as one in three LGBT people have been subjected to some form of conversion therapy and that the American Psychological Association has linked it to depression, substance abuse, and suicide.”

Brinton “testified about the licensed psychotherapist who tied his arms down, wrapped his hands in hot copper coils, and stuck needles in his finger to channel electric shocks whenever he was shown a picture of men kissing.”

“The conversion therapy stories we shared brought tears to the eyes of U.N. and State Department officials,” Ames wrote.

Also were the parents of Michael Brown – the unarmed 18-year-old in Ferguson, Mo., who was fatally shot by police – as well as a survivor of military sexual assault and “an exonerated prisoner held at Guantanamo Bay,” Ames added.

In 2009, the APA adopted a resolution saying that mental health professionals should avoid telling clients they can change their sexual orientation through therapy or other treatments.

"Contrary to claims of sexual orientation change advocates and practitioners, there is insufficient evidence to support the use of psychological interventions to change sexual orientation," said Judith M. Glassgold, PsyD, chair of the task force. "Scientifically rigorous older studies in this area found that sexual orientation was unlikely to change due to efforts designed for this purpose.

“Contrary to the claims of SOCE practitioners and advocates, recent research studies do not provide evidence of sexual orientation change as the research methods are inadequate to determine the effectiveness of these interventions," Glassgold said.

"At most, certain studies suggested that some individuals learned how to ignore or not act on their homosexual attractions. Yet, these studies did not indicate for whom this was possible, how long it lasted or its long-term mental health effects. Also, this result was much less likely to be true for people who started out only attracted to people of the same sex," she added.

However, Dr. Nicholas Cummings, former head of the APA, wrote a column in the USA Today last year challenging the notion that sexual reorientation therapy was unethical.

“The Southern Poverty Law Center has done amazing service for our nation in fighting prejudice. But it has gone astray in its recent New Jersey lawsuit charging JONAH, formerly Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing, a group that offers to help gay people change their orientation, with committing consumer fraud. The sweeping allegation that such treatment must be a fraud because homosexual orientation can't be changed is damaging,” he wrote.

During his time as chief psychologist for Kaiser Permanente, Cummings and his staff treated 18,000 gays and lesbians who sought therapy either “to come to grips with their gay identity, to resolve relationship issues or to change their sexual orientation.”

“We would always inform patients in the third group that change was not easily accomplished. With clinical experience, my staff and I learned to assess the probability of change in those who wished to become heterosexual,” Cummings wrote.

“The majority were able to attain a happier and more stable homosexual lifestyle. Of the patients I oversaw who sought to change their orientation, hundreds were successful,” he wrote. “I believe that our rate of success with reorientation was relatively high because we were selective in recommending therapeutic change efforts only to those who identified themselves as highly motivated and were clinically assessed as having a high probability of success.

Cummings said psychotherapy in sexual orientation change has become “politicized.”

“Contending that all same-sex attraction is immutable is a distortion of reality. Attempting to characterize all sexual reorientation therapy as ‘unethical’ violates patient choice and gives an outside party a veto over patients' goals for their own treatment. A political agenda shouldn't prevent gays and lesbians who desire to change from making their own decisions,” he wrote.

The NCLR’s #BornPerfect campaign set a goal of five years to get rid of conversion therapy in the U.S. California and New Jersey have made it illegal for minors to undergo “reparative therapy.”

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