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LGBTQI+ Conversion Therapies Do Not Work

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Pseudo-scientific therapies that claim they can “fix” people who experience same-gender attraction have been proven to be ineffective and inhumane. Why, then, are Ghanaian members of the LGBTQI+ community still being subjected to this form of violence, with the support of organised religion and government? asks Dr Anima Adjepong.

The Daily Graphic is one of Ghana’s oldest state-owned newspapers. On 21 August 2018, it reported that a right-wing conservative organisation would be introducing “sexual reparative therapies”, which would be run through the state-owned Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital in Accra. In addition, the organisation plans to introduce a Bill to parliament that would punish lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people who do not conform to heterosexuality. Lawyer Moses Foh-Amoaning is the leader of this ongoing assault on LGBTQI+ Ghanaians.

What are “reparative therapies”?

Sometimes called “conversion” or “ex-gay” therapies, these efforts seek to “correct” people’s same-gender attractions. Reparative therapies include torturous methods, which have repeatedly proven to be ineffective and inhumane. Shock therapy is one such method. With this method, victims are forced to watch homoerotic images while receiving electric shocks to their hands and/or genitals. Such electrocution would supposedly end their same-gender attractions. But they do not work, instead leading to anxiety, self-harm and even suicide.

“Ex-gay” movements are largely driven by fundamentalist religious organisations that believe you can “pray the gay away”. Invoking narrow interpretations of religious texts, “ex-gay” programmes preach that same-gender attraction is sinful, mentally disturbed and displeasing to God. These programmes advocate prayer and pseudo-scientific therapies, claiming that they can “fix” people who experience same-gender attraction.

Most Ghanaians may never have heard of “ex-gay” movements or reparative therapies. But many will certainly have heard of prayer camps to exorcise so-called “gay demons”. Some may also have heard of the three-day prayer crusade against gay rights, which the Ghana Pentecostal and Charismatic Council organised between 30 June and 2 July 2018. This prayer crusade is a recent example of the anti-LGBTQI+ climate in Ghana that directs hostility towards LGBTQI+ people. For the record, there are LGBTQI+-affirming churches and mosques that reject the idea that same-gender attraction is unnatural. But I have not heard of any of these in Ghana.

Reparative therapies do not work because they rely on a false premise – the idea that there is only one proper expression of sexuality. Human sexuality is in fact as diverse as human beings. Some people have different-gender sexual attractions and others have same-gender attractions. Some people are sexually attracted to all genders, and some people do not experience sexual attraction at all. These are all normal expressions of human sexuality, and no therapies are needed to redirect them one way or another.

File picture: Homosexuality is criminalised in many parts of Africa, and LGBTI people struggle to imagine a life of visibility and freedom.  Photo: lazyllama/Shutterstock

In the pursuit of healthy sexuality, we as a society should place emphasis on consent and mutual respect.

People who express same-gender attraction already experience a lot of violence, shame and alienation in Ghana. A recent Human Rights Watch report found that LGBTQI+ Ghanaians suffer widespread discrimination and abuse at every level of society. People lose jobs. They are ejected from family homes and cannot rent houses. They are subjected to so-called corrective rapes and vigilante violence. And when they seek help from the police, they are likely to be physically abused there as well.

The introduction of reparative therapies will exacerbate LGBTQI+ Ghanaians’ feelings of alienation and their susceptibility to various forms of violence. Foh-Amoaning’s obsessive campaign against LGBTQI+ Ghanaians is an extension of this violence. Packaged in the rhetoric of “rights” and “counselling”, this campaign is also coercive. It forces LGBTQI+ people to subject themselves to proven ineffective and abusive methods in the hopes of evading other kinds of violence. We know from research that these therapies will not work. When they inevitably fail to change victims’ sexual orientation, what then?

Read: I’m a homophobe and Yes, I’m gay too

Around the world, mental health organisations have denounced the use of sexual conversion therapies. Health professionals and experts say that they are dangerous and ineffective. To protect citizens, especially the youth, some countries have passed legislation to ban such therapies. Ghana would do well to follow suit.

In a 2017 interview on Al Jazeera, President Nana Akufo-Addo bragged that Ghana was a vanguard of African democracy and respect for human rights. In that same interview, the president also said that LGBTQI+ rights were not “on the agenda”. If Ghana were truly committed to human rights, it is about time that LGBTQI+ rights are put on the agenda. Banning conversion therapies, which are ineffective and dangerous, is a simple way to protect LGBTQI+ citizens and affirm our human rights. As an African leader, Ghana can lead the way by doing this.

Dr Anima Adjepong is a feminist scholar who researches and writes about culture, society and identity.

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