Hundreds of religious leaders call for end to LGBTQ conversion therapy

The declaration also asked that nations find a way to end the criminalisation of people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - In a show of unity aimed at fighting for the rights of LGBTQ people, more than 370 international spiritual leaders have signed a declaration demanding a global ban on disputed conversion therapy.

The declaration also asked that nations find a way to end the criminalisation of people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

It also called for an end to violence against LGBTQ people.

The pledge was signed by religious leaders from more than 35 countries.

It was led by the Global Interfaith Commission on LGBT+ Lives initiative, in a bid "to affirm the sanctity of life and dignity of all".

"We recognise that certain religious teachings have, throughout the ages, been misused to cause deep pain and offence to those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and inter-sex," the commission said in a statement.

"This must change."

Some of the most prominent religious leaders who signed the declaration include Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu of South Africa, a 1984 Nobel Peace Prize winner; Rabbi Mel Gottlieb, the president of the Academy for Jewish Religion, California; the Reverend John Dorhauer, the general minister and president of the United Church of Christ; and the Reverend Michael-Ray Mathews, president of the Alliance of Baptists.

Conversion therapy is a discredited practice aimed at altering a person's sexual orientation or gender identity.

The American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association have condemned the practice.

The practice sometimes included severe methods like institutionalisation, castration and electroshock therapy.

Twenty states in the United States have some form of a ban on conversion therapy, said Ms Christy Mallory, a state and local policy director at the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law.

The institute is a think-tank focused on researching sexual orientation and gender identity issues.

Most of the states that passed a ban are those that are more supportive of LGBTQ rights, she said.

"It leaves the most vulnerable LGBTQ people, particularly kids, more at risk in the states where there are no laws in place," she said.

New York, Utah, Virginia, Colorado and Puerto Rico have all passed legislation banning conversion therapy for minors.

In 2019, Israel's Education Minister Rafael Peretz endorsed the debunked therapy for young gay people.

The first European country to outlaw the practice was Malta, a Mediterranean island nation, in 2016.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain pledged a ban on the controversial therapy over the summer, according to the BBC, calling the practice "absolutely abhorrent".

All of the legislation in the United States tackle bans on conversion therapy by licensed healthcare professionals and practising on minors, Ms Mallory said.

But she added that these laws leave a gap for religious or spiritual providers to continue to carry out the practice.

The pledge by the religious leaders calls "for all attempts to change, suppress or erase a person's sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression" to end - and for the practice to be banned.

The pledge could help to begin closing the gap on the practice with religious leaders, Ms Mallory said.

She said it reflected a growing trend of spiritual leaders supporting rights for LGBTQ people more broadly.

The pledge said: "We ask for forgiveness from those whose lives have been damaged and destroyed on the pretext of religious teaching."

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