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Letter from Brussels: Conversion Therapy
by De Ket, in Columns & Opinions , posted 21 September 2014

Dear Neighbors to the North, The controversial conversion therapy, turning homosexuals into heterosexuals, is back in the spotlight. This time in China, but with a positive note. For the first time, a Chinese psychiatrist has to account for using conversion therapy on Chinese gays and lesbians in court. The subpoena is a success for Chinese gay activists, who want to get rid of the “disease” label on homosexuality.

The trial takes place in China, a country in which the law has already decided ten years ago that homosexuality is not a mental illness. But in practice, doctors and private hospitals continued to apply conversion therapy, much to the dismay of gay activists, who accused the government of turning a blind eye. The famous psychiatrist Dr. Zhou Zhengyou, for example, can still publish a series of books on the methods he uses in conversion therapy. However, the court case does not include him.

According to Dr. Zhou Zhengyou, the most effective treatments are electro therapy and infusion therapy. During a session, a “patient” has to indicate in a conversation when he or she has an erotic gay thought. Then, the “patient” is given an electrical shock, or is administered an agent through infusion that makes the patient nauseous. Dr. Zhengyou claims to be successful in seventy percent of the cases, although he admits that the road to success is one of perseverance. And above all, of a lot of money, as for each session the “patient” has to cough up approximately seventy-five Euros. That is a lot of money, especially in a country where the electricity for electro therapy is dirt cheap, and the average monthly wage is in between 250 and 400 Euros.

China may still leave much to be desired, but this case can serve as an example for the United States. In all freedom, doctors in the USA can still practice conversion therapies without fear of the law. In some Puritan states, these doctors can continue to practice. The American government requests and demands of the doctors that they practice “evidence based medicine,” but for conversion therapy, this scientific evidence doesn’t seem to be necessary. In the USA, they still haven’t seen a conviction, let alone the beginning of a trial.

But now, and especially in the USA, conversion therapy is “hot” again. Not coincidentally, in the most conservative states in the USA, where (almost) anything is possible in the name of God. Under the guiding light of the strict Catholic movement, which is not too warm-hearted about homosexuality in the first place, doctors practicing conversion therapy are not obstructed at all. Just as in China, part of the (American) treatment is the partial blame-shift to the parents. The parents are partly responsible for being gay or lesbian, and this shared guilt would make it easier to reverse. “You are not the only one to blame,” many American doctors say.

And where in China social, legal and judicial resistance is present against these practices (although there is no final verdict yet), at the other side of the Atlantic, in a Western country no less, we still have to wait for serious action to put a stop to these practices once and for all. It is going to be a tough road ahead. Freedom of expression is the sacred cow that makes Americans (wrongly) think that it will keep the immense country socially and politically stable. Perhaps for the moment, but that remains to be seen in the long term.

Yours sincerely

De Ket

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