Conversion Therapy: When Being Queer is a Sin

Conversion therapies cannot work, simply because there sexuality is not a disease to cure.

Updated
Mind It
4 min read
“It’s important to continuously raise our voice against this practice - all bodies and sexualities are normal, there is nothing to cure. Conversion therapy is nothing but violence.”
Pooja Nair, a mental health practitioner

What could it feel like being told your identity is a sin and a mental disorder that needs to be corrected?

Anjana Hareesh, also known as Chinnu Sulfikar, was a 21-year-old student and queer activist from Kerala who came out to her parents as bisexual. Her parents were not supportive and instead forcibly took her to two de-addiction clinics to undergo conversion therapy in an attempt illegally “cure” her of her homosexuality.

On May 12, Anjana/Chinnu died by suicide in Goa.

The incident has put the spotlight on the unscientific and cruel practice that some mental health practitioners in India still follow: conversion therapy.
Conversion Therapy: When Being Queer is a Sin
(Photo: Erum Gour/FIT)

Anjana posted a video on Facebook where she spoke about the mental and physical abuse she was subject to when her parents took her to the de-addiction centres over three months against her will. She spoke of being put on heavy medication as well being physically attacked by her parents when she refused to go to the therapy.

Late on Monday evening, news broke that a lesbian couple in Tamil Nadu also died by suicide after allegedly being forced to undergo conversion therapy.

A twitter user pointed out that it included insensitive news reporting on homosexuality, and Senior Editor of News18 Tamil Nadu Gunasekaran responded by taking down the article.

Pooja Nair, a mental health practitioner and faculty with the Queer Affirmative Counselling Certificate Course by Mariwala Health Initiative told FIT, “We lost another member of the queer community to the violence of the mental health establishment.”

What is Conversion Therapy?

Conversion Therapy: When Being Queer is a Sin
(Photo: Erum Gour/FIT)

Conversion therapy is an umbrella term for pseudoscientific treatments that aim to "cure" an individual of their sexuality and "convert" their sexual orientation to heterosexual.

They often involve inhuman techniques like hormonal treatments, aversion therapy, heavy medication and more.

They exist because of the flawed and unscientific belief that sexuality is a mental disorder that can be cured.

The Supreme Court referred to the anti-discriminatory provisions of the Mental Healthcare Act 2017 to observe that homosexuality is not a mental illness or mental disorder. This close observation also led to the reading down of Section 377. In fact, one of the reasons that the Naaz Foundation filed petitions against 377 was because of the cruel practice of conversion therapies.

In February 2014, the Indian Psychiatric Society, the country’s largest body of mental health professionals, officially said that "there is no evidence to substantiate the belief that homosexuality is a mental illness or a disease.”

Therefore, conversion therapies cannot work simply because sexuality is not a disease to be cured.

‘Nothing to Cure’: Mental Health for the Queer Community

Conversion Therapy: When Being Queer is a Sin
(Photo: Erum Gour/FIT)

Conversion therapies are a tangible result of the deep homophobia in our societies.

Family members often forcibly admit the individual for conversion therapy without their consent to wrongfully “correct” their identity.

But there is no scientific basis for conversion therapy and it actually actively harms members of the LGBTQ+ community.

Studies point to an increase in mental distress, depression, anxiety and feelings of shame and self-hatred.

In 2018, the IPS reiterated their stand and Dr Ajit Bhide, IPS president said, "It is a step in the right direction. Some individuals are just not cut out to be heterosexuals and we don’t need to castigate them, we don’t need to punish them, we don’t need to ostracise them.”

The mental health community needs to stand together to condemn such acts says queer-affirmative mental health practitioner Shruti Chakravarty.

Nair adds, “It is unfortunate that even in the aftermath of 377, prejudices have a life of their own and don’t seem to be in a hurrty to change just because the law has changed.”

“Queer and trans people definitely need greater support to navigate this cis0gendered, heterosexual world.”
Pooja Nair, a mental health practitioner

Queer individuals are subject to systemic oppressions of a straight world and require fair, non-judgemental and inclusive mental healthcare.

Often, families are the first site of resistance for a queer individual - and many families reject and attempt to violently change their child. However, it’s important to recognise that families are a product of society and they also need support in fully accepting their child.

“Families are part of the same discriminatory society will have their own challenges in dealing with their children. They will need mental health support on their journies of accepting their child.”
Pooja Nair, a mental health practitioner

Therefore it becomes even more important to ensure queer-affirmative, inclusive and welcoming mental health support rather than unethical and cruel practices.

A campaign initiated by MHI-QACP mental health practitioners calling on other mental health practitioners and mental health organisations to pledge support for LGBTQ+ communities has already crossed 1,000 signatures in 24 hours. It calls for associations and individual practitioners to take an unequivocal stand on conversion therapy, to work on queer-affirmative counseling methods, and to use guidelines that are queer and trans-inclusive.

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