African mental health professionals have met in Johannesburg to speak out against so-called “conversion therapy” practices that attempt to change people’s sexuality or gender identity.
The landmark gathering was convened by the Psychological Society of South Africa (PsySSA) Sexuality and Gender Division, in collaboration with Outright International, from 20 to 21 April.
Conversion therapies – also known as “reparative therapies”, “gay cure”, and “SOGIE change efforts” – are defined as any attempts to suppress or change an LGBTQ+ person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, and/or expression (SOGIE).
These practices continue to flourish around the world, despite evidence clearly showing that being LGBTQ+ is a regular variation of our human diversity that needs to be affirmed, not changed.
According to a statement by PsySSA, the Johannesburg gathering aimed “to create a mutual learning space to share experiences about how best to (1) eradicate conversion practices among mental health providers in Africa, (2) offer affirmative therapy and counselling to survivors of conversion practices, (3) reinforce the evidence that conversion practices are harmful and unscientific.”
The attendees were mental health practitioners and some lawyers, primarily from South Africa, Kenya, and Nigeria, with some representation from Uganda and Cameroon.
Ugandan civil society activists, such as Dr Adrian Jjuuko, the executive director of the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF), spoke about the challenges of working in hostile legal and social contexts.
The organisers noted that, unfortunately, many Nigerian delegates did not obtain their visas in time to attend the meeting, including Professor Andrew Zamani, president-elect of PAPU. Some, however, joined discussions online.
Conversion therapy is a human rights abuse and, in some instances, a form of torture
A key outcome of the meeting was the writing and signing of a historic declaration against conversion practices.
The Johannesburg Declaration Against SOGIE Change Efforts and Conversion Practices asserts that all efforts to change people’s sexual orientation, gender identity, and/or expression “are unnecessary, harmful and traumatic.”
It states that conversion therapy practices are “human rights abuses, forms of gender-based violence and, in some instances, torture.”
The signatories also agreed that conversion therapy is unscientific, ineffective and unethical and goes “against all contemporary and accepted best practices in mental healthcare.”
Other mental health professionals, related experts, researchers, healthcare workers, LGBTQ+ people, survivors of conversion practices, and all allies from Africa and around the world have been urged to show support for the declaration.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni recently called for MPs to include provisions in that nation’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill to allow LGBTQ+ people to submit themselves to conversion therapy to avoid prosecution.
The practice is banned, primarily in connection with minors, in several countries and regions including Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Malta and New Zealand.
In July 2021, DA MP Siviwe Gwarube said she planned to submit a Private Members Bill to Parliament to prohibit conversion therapy for minors in South Africa but there has since been no further development.
A 2020 report by the UN’s Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, Victor Madrigal-Borloz, called on states to ban practices of conversion therapy which have been linked to depression and higher rates of suicide.
You can show your support for the Johannesburg Declaration Against SOGIE Change Efforts and Conversion Practices by signing the petition here.