UN LGBTQ expert calls for global ban of conversion therapy

  • by Heather Cassell, BAR Contributor
  • Wednesday July 15, 2020
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Victor-Madrigal-Borloz is the independent LGBTQ expert at the United Nations. Photo: Courtesy Mark Garten/U.N.
Victor-Madrigal-Borloz is the independent LGBTQ expert at the United Nations. Photo: Courtesy Mark Garten/U.N.

The United Nations' LGBTQ expert called for a global ban on so-called conversion therapy in Geneva last week.

Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the U.N. independent expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, presented his findings on conversion therapy July 8 to the body's 14-member Human Rights Council, calling the practice "inherently degrading and discriminatory."

He added it is "rooted in the belief that LGBT persons are somehow inferior, and that they must at any cost modify their orientation or identity to remedy that supposed inferiority."

The report was released in May.

The independent SOGI expert's office was established in 2016 and is mandated to investigate discrimination and violence against LGBTQ people around the world. The office produces two reports annually that are presented before the UNHRC and the General Assembly. Madrigal-Borloz is the second person to hold the post.

The Costa Rican lawyer echoed the warning he told the Bay Area Reporter in May that the "damage is deep and lasting" and is "absolutely unjustified."

"There is nothing to correct in LGBT person's life when it concerns their sexual orientation or gender identity," Madrigal-Borloz said in the May interview.

Scientists, physicians, and LGBTQ activists around the world have denounced conversion therapy. Despite this fact, it is still a common practice globally.

Mathew Shurka, co-founder of the National Center for Lesbian Rights' Born Perfect campaign, praised Madrigal-Borloz's call to ban conversion therapy worldwide, saying it's "a huge turning point in the global effort to end this deadly practice."

"The independent expert and the U.N.'s leadership have the power and influence to encourage member states to protect LGBTQ people from this abuse," Shurka stated in a July 8 news release from NCLR.

"I know firsthand how devastating these practices are, and how much lasting harm they cause to LGBTQ people and their families," he added, talking about his five-year experience with therapists who attempted to convert him as being "trapped in systemic torture."

Madrigal-Borloz applauded anti-conversion therapy activists in the U.S. and Canada, stating that they are responsible for keeping the issue front and center and in the media.

"There are magnificent activists, many of whom are survivors of conversion therapy, that are constantly keeping the issue in the agenda," he told the B.A.R. "I think this is the result of the work of civil society and activism and I think that this proves information does actually matter and good information when it comes to people's rights."

From November 2019 through February 29, Madrigal-Borloz conducted extensive research, reviewing documentation of the practice and reaching out to experts and those who experienced conversion therapy around the world.

Madrigal-Borloz's findings echo other recent reports about the practice of conversion therapy published by OutRight Action International, the LGBT Foundation, Johns Hopkins University and Hornet, and the Trevor Project. He also conducted his own research through more than 130 submissions and interviews from member states, parliamentarians, national human rights institutions, civil society organizations, academics, medical practitioners, faith-based leaders, and individuals.

Madrigal-Borloz found three main approaches to conversion therapy: psychotherapy, medical, and faith-based. Promoters of conversion therapy include a broad spectrum, from government to family members, especially faith-based organizations and government officials from law enforcement institutions.

The LGBTQ expert recommended that states could carry out bans on conversion therapy by instituting policies that clearly define the practice and what's prohibited. In addition to policies defunding programs that support such practices, other things could include banning advertising of the practice, establishing investigations into claims, and punishment for non-compliance. Madrigal-Borloz also recommended creating mechanisms for access to all forms of reparation to victims, including the right to rehabilitation.

The movement for governments to ban conversion therapy is underway. Brazil, Ecuador, Germany, Malta, and Taiwan have banned the practice. Canada's government announced legislation to ban conversion therapy this year. Twenty states in the United States have banned it.

To read the report, visit https://undocs.org/A/HRC/44/53

Norway to prioritize resettlement for some LGBTQ refugees

Norway will prioritize LGBTQ asylum seekers and refugees in a new three-year resettlement plan, the Scandinavian country's government announced last week.

"We are now changing the guidelines for the work of transfer refugees so that persons who are queer should be given priority," Grunde Kreek Almeland, the state secretary for integration affairs in the ministry of education, said in a July 5 news release.

The new policy works in coordination with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Qualified LGBTQ refugees — individuals and groups — are those who are already registered with the UNHCR and have been transferred from one asylum country to another for permanent resettlement.

Most asylum and refugee programs have been halted due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Only urgent cases have been processed.

Norway expects to welcome 3,000 transfer refugees annually through the program. If the quota isn't met one year, the number of refugees accepted to be resettled into the country will roll over, according to the release.

Narrow win for Poland's anti-gay president

Anti-LGBTQ Polish President Andrzej Duda narrowly beat his pro-LGBTQ opponent, Rafal Trzaskowski, in the July 12 runoff presidential election.

Duda, 48, garnered 51.2% of the votes. Trzaskowski, 48, the mayor of Warsaw, received 48.8% of the votes.

Experts who observed the election said it was Poland's closest democratic election since the fall of communism in 1989.

Electoral commission officials announced the victory with 99% of all constituencies reporting at a news conference Monday morning, reported the BBC. Some polling places hadn't submitted their ballots. Turnout was reportedly 68.2%.

Officials were unsure when they would announce the complete results of the election, but they didn't expect the numbers would affect the final tally, they said.

Duda's victory doesn't bode well for LGBTQ Poles, who were scapegoated by the Law and Justice party leader during both election campaigns.

Shortly before the runoff election, Duda promised Polish families he would protect them from "LGBT ideology" in public institutions and cozied up to President Donald Trump at the White House.

During the 12-day runoff campaign, Duda promised voters that if elected, he would constitutionally ban same-sex marriage and he would limit adoption to only married heterosexual couples.

In order to pass a constitutional amendment, Duda would need a majority amounting to two-thirds of the lower house of parliament, reported Thomson Reuters Foundation. Currently, the party doesn't hold enough seats to do that.

Duda has been in office since 2015 and has a history of signing anti-gay legislation and other attacks against Poland's LGBTQ community. His call for "LGBT-free zones," for example, led European Union Commissioner for Equality Helena Dalli to threaten that the E.U. might withdraw some funding from the Central European country if the zones were actually set up.

LGBTQ Poles are expecting more anti-gay legislation and attacks during the next five years of Duda's term in office.

In contrast, Trzaskowski supported a civil partnership law for same-sex couples and sex education courses that included curriculum about LGBTQ issues in Warsaw classrooms, reported Reuters. He was also the first mayor in Poland to march in Warsaw's Pride parade in 2019.

The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association ranked Poland as the worst country in the E.U. for LGBTQ rights this year.

LGBTQ campaigning organization All Out launched a petition and online solidarity action to support LGBTQ Poles.

To sign the petition or participate in the action, visit https://tinyurl.com/AllOutPoland and https://tinyurl.com/AllOutLGBTQPolesSolidarity

Gabon decriminalizes same-sex relationships

Gabonese President Ali Bongo Ondimba signed a law decriminalizing same-sex relationships last week.

The law, signed by the president July 7, comes a week after the Gabonese Senate repealed the country's 1-year-old law that criminalized homosexuality 59-17 on June 29, reported Reuters. Four senators abstained.

The lower house of the Gabonese Parliament approved it June 24.

The small African nation had criminalized homosexuality for both men and women. Under the law, individuals charged with violating the law faced up to six months in prison and could be fined up to 5 million CFA francs (about $8,500).

The country co-sponsored and signed onto a nonbinding United Nations declaration on SOGI calling for decriminalization of homosexuality globally in 2008.

Gabon, which is on the Gulf of Guinea, is bordered by the Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, and Cameroon.

LGBTQ advocates around the world praised lawmakers and called upon other countries that continue to criminalize homosexuality to strike down their anti-gay laws.

UNAIDS Executive Director Winnie Byanyima supported the country's move in an agency news release following the law's passage.

"I applaud the collective decision by Gabon's parliament, government, and president to decriminalize same-sex sexual relations," stated Byanyima. "By doing so, Gabon is righting a grave injustice inflicted on the LGBTI community in the country.

"This is a very welcome step toward equality for LGBTI people in Gabon," she added, calling upon other countries around the world that continue to criminalize homosexuality to end the harmful discrimination.

OutRight Action International Executive Director Jessica Stern hailed the move.

"This is not only an affirmation of the right of LGBTQ people in Gabon to love whom they choose, but also an inspiration to advocates in countries in which these bans still exist or are being considered," she wrote in an Instagram post.

Same-sex relationships are still criminalized in over 70 countries around the world. Among these countries, 44 have laws specifically addressing lesbian relationships, 15 have laws specifically addressing gender identity, and 12 impose the death penalty, according to the Human Dignity Trust.

Got international LGBT news tips? Call or send them to Heather Cassell at WhatsApp: 415-517-7239, or Skype: heather.cassell, or [email protected]

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