Belgium has joined several European nations in outlawing the dangerous practice of so-called conversion therapy, extending the ban to cover both minors and adults.
The Belgian Parliament passed a bill on Thursday that criminalises attempts to change or “cure” sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.
According to the legislation, individuals found guilty of practicing conversion therapy could face fines ranging from €208 to €2,400 and be sentenced to up to two years in jail.
Medical and mental health professionals found guilty of engaging in this pseudoscientific practice may have their professional licenses suspended for up to five years. Additionally, advertising or promoting conversion therapy practices will also be deemed illegal.
The news of the ban was welcomed by Sarah Schlitz, the Belgian State Secretary for Gender Equality, Equal Opportunity, and Diversity. She tweeted, “The practices of conversion inflicted on LGBTQIA+ are finally banned, one more step towards an inclusive Belgium. Belgium recognises the suffering of the victims and proclaims ‘let’s be whoever we want and love who we love, no one can change it’.'”
Conversion therapy is linked to depression, anxiety, substance abuse, homelessness, and suicide.
The Centre Permanent pour la Citoyenneté et la Participation (CPCP), which recently published a report on Belgian victims of conversion therapy, applauded the passage of the bill. The organisation expressed particular satisfaction that the legislation applies even in cases where the person consents to the practice.
“This was an essential point in our study. Indeed, a pattern of influence is often present in these conversion processes: a religious, family, or community influence. Wanting to discuss the notion of consent in these conversion processes becomes all the more difficult and debatable,” noted CPCP.
Conversion therapy is typically banned for minors in several other European countries, including Albania, Cyprus, Greece, France, Germany, Iceland, Malta, and parts of Spain.
The practice, which seeks to change or “cure” someone’s sexuality, is based on the false belief that homosexuality is immoral, an illness, or a deviation. Conversion therapy methods can include prayer, exorcism, counseling, psychotherapy, hypnosis, and even the use of electric shocks.
Mental health and human rights groups, including the World Psychiatric Association, have discredited conversion therapy as ineffective and deeply harmful, linking it to depression, anxiety, substance abuse, homelessness, and suicide. It remains legal in South Africa.