Malta Pride 2016 (Pic: ARC)
The practice of trying to “cure” LGBT people has been banned in the Mediterranean island nation of Malta, believed to be a European and possibly a world first.
The Maltese Parliament unanimously approved the Affirmation of Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Gender Expression Bill, which criminalises so-called “conversion therapy” as a “deceptive and harmful” act or practice.
The pseudoscience, also known as “reparative therapy”, aims to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
Under the bill, anyone who advertises or attempts the practice will be fined or jailed. The harshest penalties are for professionals, who face fines of up to €10,000 or imprisonment of up to one year.
The bill also affirms that sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression is not a “disorder, disease, illness, deficiency, disability and, or shortcoming”.
Additionally, amendments passed by parliament also recognised the gender of trans people in prison and lowered the age for requesting legal gender recognition from 18 to 16 years.
Malta is rated as the top European nation in terms of LGBTI rights by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA-Europe).
The conversion therapy ban was welcomed by mental health professionals, including the Malta Chamber of Psychologists (MCP), The Maltese Association of Psychiatry, The Malta Association of Family Therapy & Systemic Practice, as well as the Malta Association for the Counselling Profession.
The MCP said in a statement that not only does conversion therapy “reject a group of individuals on the basis of unfound prejudice and lack of tolerance for diversity, but [it also] impinges on the international recognition of LGBTIQ rights; also supported by progressive trends to depathologise such individuals from mental health statistical manual classifications.”
In March, the World Psychiatric Association unequivocally stated that trying to “cure” LGBT people doesn’t work and is both dangerous and unethical.
Laws or measures restricting conversion therapy among minors have been approved in a number of US states or regions, while England’s National Health Service (NHS) ordered its staff to stop referring patients for conversion therapy last year.
Although the South African Society of Psychiatrists has rejected the practice of conversion therapy, it remains legal and is believed to be practised in South Africa.