France is preparing to ban so-called conversion therapy, which is probably a good thing since the discredited, harmful practice doesn’t convert anyone and isn’t therapy.
The public radio channel France Inter reports that hearings on banning conversion therapy will be held this week in French Parliament, with a law possibly submitted in early 2020. The sponsors are MPs Laurence Vanceunebrock-Mialon and Bastien Lachaud.
The bill would likely impose a punishment of two years in prison and a fine of €30,000, which comes out to around $33,000 in the United States. That’s a far tougher penalty than any levied in the U.S., where just over a dozen states have laws banning the practice. Currently, 18 states — including California, Illinois, Nevada, and New Jersey — have passed statewide conversion therapy bans, but those laws only apply to minors under the age of 18.
There’s been a rise of “conversion therapy” practitioners in France, particularly with predatory religious groups that offer treatment as a form of “internship” and doctors who prescribe anti-anxiety medication as a “cure.”
The belief that LGBTQ+ identities can be changed may have grown out of increased conservative activism in 2012, when the country was debating a marriage equality bill. Around that time, right-wing organizations like La Manif Pour Tous, which was linked to the U.S.-based group National Organization for Marriage, organized religious opposition to equality, leading thousands to march in the streets against legalizing same-sex unions.
Among those expected to speak in favor of French “pray away the gay” camps is a group called Torrents of Life, which charges up to £270 for a weeklong retreat in the country. In the past, similar organizations in the U.S. have been accused of abuse and neglect, as well as conducting bizarre naked rituals.
The effort in France follows a statement from the European Union last year calling for an end to the practice, which has been likened to “torture” by the United Nations. Members voted 435-109 in favor of the resolution, noting that ex-gay practices are only banned in Malta and certain parts of Spain. Countries like Germany, Ireland, Poland, and the United Kingdom are working on similar bills.
Nearly every leading medical association in the U.S. — including the American Medical Association and American Psychiatric Association — has condemned conversion therapy as dangerous and ineffective at “curing” patients of their LGBTQ+ identities.
“There is no sound scientific evidence that innate sexual orientation can be changed,” the World Psychiatric Association says of the discredited psuedoscience. “Furthermore, so-called treatments of homosexuality can create a setting in which prejudice and discrimination flourish, and they can be potentially harmful. The provision of any intervention purporting to ‘treat’ something that is not a disorder is wholly unethical.”
A Trevor Project report published earlier this year also showed conversion therapy leads to higher rates of depression and suicidal ideation. Forty-two percent of young people who had been subjected to the practice considered taking their own lives in the past year.