BOGOTA, 11 May 2022:
The inaptly-named pseudoscience of conversion therapy subsists in a legal gray area in Colombia but LGBT+ groups are campaigning to proscribe the practice – which claims to change the sexuality of gay, bisexual and trans people through psychological and spiritual intervention, including exorcism.
Óscar, who preferred not to be identified by his full name, underwent what was described to him at his local Catholic church in Medellín as “restorative therapy,” which, he was told, involved little more than “heterosexualising people” via spirituality.
“I ended up believing I was being cured of an illness,” he noted. “I ended up getting a girlfriend who I thought of marrying.”
He went on to become one of the leaders within the Medellíin churches offering conversion therapy until he was removed from his role.
It was not until recently, however, that he realised what he was put through was “spiritual and emotional abuse.”
Danne Belmont’s family did not know how to react when she told them she was gay and began to look for help that “tended toward having to correct, change or transform my sexual orientation.”
A family doctor referred Belmont to a church-run conversion therapy course when she was just 16. There, she was subjected to “exorcisms and rituals” aimed at “transforming” her sexuality.
For Danne, who now leads the Fundación Gaat – a platform that provides support to trans people, the practice only damaged her physical and mental health and strained family relations.
Conversion therapy practices vary worldwide but there have been reports of rape, exorcisms and the use of spiritual retreats with harsh conditions as tools used to change a person’s sexuality.
“They involve a lot of physical and psychological repercussions in people,” said Andrés Forero from the organisation All Out, which advocates a ban on conversion therapy. “Many victims report episodes of depression, anxiety and even suicide attempts.”
One of the few reports on the topic in Colombia made an alarming discovery — one in five LGTB+ people in the country had been approached by some kind of conversion therapy.
The legal gray area around its practice is something that lawmaker Mauricio Toro wants to bring to an end.
“What’s happening in Colombia, which is no different to what’s happening in the world, is very dangerous.
“Members of the LGBTI community don’t need to cure anything. This isn’t an illness. We want to ban these therapies that go against LGBTI rights.
“Torture, it all revolves around this.”