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Warning over gay 'therapy'

21st May 2012

Health experts in the United States have denounced therapies that attempt to "cure" homosexuality as a serious threat to the health and well-being of gay people.

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In a statement issued on International Day against Homophobia, the Pan American Health Organisation said such services also lack medical justification.

Homosexuality was removed from a list of mental disorders by the World Health Assembly just 22 years ago.

So-called "reparative" or "conversion" therapies represent "a serious threat to the health and well-being—even the lives—of affected people," the group's statement said.

The statement came as a former top American psychiatrist apologised publicly to the gay community for his work on a reparative therapy for homosexuality in 2003.

In a letter published this month in the same journal where the original study appeared, Robert L. Spitzer concluded: "I believe I owe the gay community an apology."

Spitzer, who had previously argued forcefully for the removal of homosexuality from the list of mental disorders, later presented a paper supporting reparative therapy for gay men and women wanting to change their sexual orientation, based on telephone interviews with 200 homosexuals who reportedly changed their behaviour after undergoing such therapy.

In his apology, he admitted that there was no control group with which to compare results and the interviews were based solely on unverifiable self-reports.

PAHO, which is backed by the World Health Organisation (WHO), said there was a consensus among healthcare professionals that homosexuality was a natural variation of human sexuality, and could not therefore be regarded as pathological.

However, it cited numerous reports of "therapists" and "clinics" worldwide purporting to cure it.

While such treatments have never been proven to be effective at changing the sexual orientation of participants, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that they may harm a person's mental and physical health.

"Repression of sexual orientation has been associated with feelings of guilt and shame, depression, anxiety, and even suicide," the statement said.

According to PAHO, some treatments claiming to "cure" homosexuality have included degrading participants and harassing them physically and sexually.

Teenagers have been subjected to them against their will by family members unable to accept their orientation.

Experts said that "conversion" therapies went against ethical principles in healthcare practices and could even result in violations of human rights enshrined in international covenants.

PAHO called on governments, academic institutions, professional associations, the media, and civil society to denounce and take action against any "clinics" offering such "services."

Training bodies should include courses on human sexuality and sexual health in the training curricula of healthcare professionals, with a focus on respect for diversity.

They should seek to eliminate attitudes that pathologise, reject, and promote hatred toward non-heterosexual persons.
    
Professional associations should continue to publish articles opposing the psychopathologisation of sexual diversity and the prevention of interventions aimed at changing sexual orientation, it said.

Media and civil society groups should continue to develop an awareness of homophobia and the violation of the human rights of non-heterosexual people.


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