Advocacy statements

Opposing the anti-LGBTI practice of ‘conversion therapy’

  • Date / 2020
  • Relevant Institution / UN Human Rights Council
  • UN Item / Item 3: Promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights

International Humanist and Ethical Union

44th Session of the UN Human Rights Council (30th June – 20th July 2020)

Interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity

We welcome this excellent report revealing how the practice of “conversion therapy” remains a painful reality for many LGBTI individuals in the world today.

The report directly implicates religious institutions as one of the main driving forces behind “conversion therapy”. Our organization is all too familiar with some of the extreme religious justifications for the practice; and we address these arguments here.

One of the main religious arguments we have seen suggests that banning conversion therapy would violate freedom of religion or belief. This is misleading.[1]  Freedom of religion or belief is a limited right, and cannot be used to persecute others.[2] We reiterate the report’s finding that a ban on conversion therapy would not affect practices that provide genuine support to LGBTI individuals in a manner that is respectful of their gender identity or sexual orientation.

Similarly, arguments that conversion therapy can be ‘beneficial’ to LGBTI individuals by supporting their rights of self-determination are dangerously missguided.[3] Conversion therapy is by its nature degrading, inhuman and cruel, and in many instances will amount to torture. It does not matter what methods are used, or whether the victim is seen to be ‘consenting’, conversion therapy is premised on the idea that being LGBTI is a disorder or a sin. Many vulnerable young people will spend their entire lives battling with internalised homophobia because of this message.

We need to subject to greater scrutiny the religious pseudo-scienctific beliefs that underpin practices such as “conversion therapy”. We support a comprehensive ban on the practice, and we call on States to re-evaluate the charitable status of organizations that shamelessly promote it.


[1] See, for example, this argument being employed by anti-LGBT organisation Aliance Defending Freedom <https://www.glaad.org/blog/alliance-defending-freedom-wants-take-down-conversion-therapy-bans-arguing-religious-freedom>

[2] This is confirmed by the recent Report of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief <https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Religion/A_HRC_43_48_AdvanceUneditedVerison.docx>

[3] See, for example, this argument being employed by anti-LGBT group HazteOir/citizengo <https://citizengo.org/en-ca/fm/173090-helping-lgbt-people-not-crime> and the conservative group Christian Concern <https://archive.christianconcern.com/our-issues/abortion/proposed-conversion-therapy-bans-a-violation-of-human-rights>

Suggested academic reference

'Opposing the anti-LGBTI practice of 'conversion therapy'', Humanists International

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