Therapy to help people change unwanted same sex attraction should be banned and labeled a human rights violation, according to a panel of advocates at the Church Center, a gathering place of left-wing groups near the UN.
Although the event was advertised as “the first ever UN discussion on the legalities, ethics, and science behind the movement promoting [efforts to change sexual orientation]”, it was held off UN property, sponsored by non-governmental organizations, and did not feature representatives of any UN member states.
Researcher Rebecca Jordan-Young of Barnard College said she was “deeply in agreement with the premise of this meeting, that sexual orientation change efforts are in fact a human rights violation and a problem,” while cautioning the audience against relying too heavily on science to back that position. “We don’t really know how sexual orientation develops,” Jordan-Young continued, adding “there’s a pretty strong trend among people who support human rights and civil rights for gay and lesbian people, to think of sexual orientation as something that’s fundamentally biologically driven…I want to suggest that we don’t want to peg our human rights efforts on that.”
Psychiatrist Jack Drescher noted that historically the campaign for gay rights gained support by hitchhiking on the civil rights movement.“[O]ne of the implicit beliefs in the gay rights movement,” he said, is “the so-called born-gay theory, that sexual orientation is like race or some other innate quality, you’re born that way.” After pointing out that modern scientific research does not support this theory, Jordan-Young proposed that a better comparison might be made with religion. “Nobody thinks that religion is inborn, but the freedom of conviction, the freedom of one’s conscience is a better analogy for us.”
The religion analogy could backfire. In October, the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief urged UN member states to protect not only the right of individuals to convert, but also “the right to try to convert others by means of non-coercive persuasion.”
The sole panelist directly affiliated with the United Nations was Toiko Kleppe, senior counsel on LGBT issues at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. She stated that “the Special Rapporteur on the right of health has said that not only is such [reparative]therapy unscientific, it’s potentially harmful, and it’s certainly contributing to stigma, both self-stigma and stigma from other people, and, as such, it is definitely a violation of human rights,” before dialing back her remarks with the clarification that it would not be a human rights violation if the patient was able to give informed consent to the therapy.
One voice in support of reparative therapy came from an anonymous letter, which was read at the event. “Jonathan,” who feared a backlash, wrote that he would not want anyone pressured or forced to go into therapy, but that without it, he “would not be as happy and as fulfilled.” He ended with this plea: “I ask you, please, let’s make sexual orientation change efforts better and more responsible; but please don’t eliminate it, please don’t criminalize it, and please don’t say that it is a violation of human rights, because for me, it made me the person I am today.”
The panel did not hear from practitioners of psychological therapy that help patients resist unwanted sexual attraction.