HOMOSEXUALITY

French MPs vote on law criminalising gay conversion therapies

Proponents say conversion therapies can modify the sexual orientation or gender identity of a person – a phenomenon the United Nations has described as "torture". 
Proponents say conversion therapies can modify the sexual orientation or gender identity of a person – a phenomenon the United Nations has described as "torture".  Sergei SUPINSKY AFP/File

A proposed law to ban conversion therapies for gay people is making its way through the French parliament, as victims sound the alarm on a practice that has existed in France since at least the 1990s. MPs in the National Assembly unanimously approved the bill, which is now in the hands of the Senate.

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Proponents say conversion therapies can modify the sexual orientation or gender identity of a person – a phenomenon the United Nations has described as "torture". 

The much-awaited bill, which victims say is needed at the very least as symbolic recognition of their trauma, includes punishment for those who continue to carry out the dangerous therapies.

In the pipeline for more than a year, it includes penalties of two years in prison and a €30,000 fine, or three years in prison and a €45,000 fine if the victim is a minor. 

The bill defines conversion therapies as "repeated practices, behaviours or words aimed at modifying or repressing the sexual orientation or gender identity" of a person and "having the effect of altering his or her physical or mental health".

Journalist Jean-Loup Adénor, who co-authored a book about occult practices to “cure” homosexuals in the United States and in France, said the bill was unlikely to lead to a drastic reduction in conversion therapies, which were “sometimes very secret". 

“What is important is that there are judicial instruments for victims to obtain reparation,” he told the Ouest France daily newspaper.

Many conversion groups

In France two groups are officially identified as engaging in conversion therapies: the evangelical group Torrents de Vie, and the Catholic group Courage, although there are reportedly many others.

Their theory is that homosexuality is "a deviance born of a trauma, and that loving a person of the same sex does not exist”, Adénor said, adding their goal was to “heal” LGBT+ people of their sexual orientation through psycho-spiritual practices. 

"It's a mixture of prayers, exorcism, and discussion groups," he said.

Meanwhile Benoit Berthe Siward, who underwent conversion therapies from the age of 15 to 18 – and is the spokesperson for the NGO Nothing to Heal – described the bill as a major advance in preventing psychological violence.

"From now on, the definition of conversion therapy is written and marked as illegal,” he told Ouest France.

“A specific offence is created and, thanks to this, there will be effective legislative tools to punish these practices."

The bill is now in the hands of the Senate. To succeed, it must be adopted before the end of February.

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