Belgium bans 'conversion therapy' for LGBTQ people

Belgium bans 'conversion therapy' for LGBTQ people
11th edition of the 'Antwerp Pride' parade. Credit: Nicolas Maeterlinck

Belgium is banning conversion practices – a pseudoscientific practice of trying to change someone's sexual orientation or gender identity to align with heterosexual and cisgender norms – for members of the LGBTQ community, announced State Secretary for Gender Equality, Equal Opportunity and Diversity Sarah Schlitz.

Although Belgium is regularly regarded as a model of LGBTQ rights due to its extensive legislative arsenal, conversion practices – often referred to as "conversion therapy," which is considered a misnomer by medical professionals as it does not constitute a legitimate form of therapy – were not yet officially banned in the country.

"Belgium is a pioneer in the field of LGBTQ rights. Numerous legislative reforms and social efforts bear witness to this, but a ban [on conversion practices] was sadly missing from our legislative arsenal," Schlitz said in a press release.

While the phenomenon is better known abroad – especially in the United States where at least 700,000 cases of conversion practices are known – Belgium is not spared from it: a recent study by the 'Centre Permanent pour la Citoyenneté et la Participation' (CPCP) reveals the stories of LGBTQ people who have been victims of these so-called medical therapies or even forms of exorcisms.

Symbolic, psychological and physical violence

Conversion practices are "deceptive, ineffective and dangerous" practices that aim to change, suppress or eliminate the sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression of LGBTQ people.

"The opportunity to be yourself and the freedom to live the way you want is a fundamental principle of our society that must not be compromised under any circumstances," Schlitz said. "This prohibition is a powerful act to protect the victims from this symbolic, psychological and sometimes physical violence."

Methods range from psychotherapy and electroshock therapy to beatings and even "corrective rape." They can take place in religious, medical or sectarian environments, can be carried out by relatives or pseudo-professionals and have terrible consequences for the people who undergo them.

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From now on, carrying out conversion practices will be punishable by imprisonment of one month to two years and/or a fine of €100 to €300.

The court will also take into account whether the offence was committed by a person in a recognised position of trust, authority or influence over the victim and whether the offence was committed against a minor or a person in a vulnerable situation.

Suggesting or inciting conversion practices, directly or indirectly, will also be penalised. The court will be able to prohibit people convicted of conversion practices from carrying out a professional or social activity related to the commission of these offences for a maximum period of five years.

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