Last June 22nd, GROW organised its first conference about “conversion therapies” and their prohibition. This conference took place in the InterLGBT’s “Quinzaine des fiertés” (Pride fortnight) framework. The event occured online, on our Facebook page. 

Watch the broadcast and relive the highlights of the discussion!

Introduction

For several months, GROW worked on the issue of “conversion therapies”. Having discussed with French Deputy Madam Laurence Vanceunebrock and multiple associations and groups such as Rien à Guérir, we decided to participate in the awareness campaign aiming at prohibiting those practices. 

The guests speakers:

  • Laurence Vanceunebrock is a deputy from the second district of Allier. For more than two years, she has been working on a bill of law aiming at prohibiting “conversion therapies”. She is now trying to register it on the parliamentary agenda in order for the proposal to be discussed and voted on by the National Assembly.
  • Jean-Michel Dunand is a survivor from such “conversion therapies”. Younger, he discovered his faith in the catholic religion and became aware of his homosexuality in his teenage years. He became divided between his homosexuality and the Church’s stance on this issue. At the beginning of the 2000s, he created the Bethanie Communion, a prayer brotherhood at the service of homosensitive and transgender people with the will of changing the Church’s stance on those issues. In 2011, he published a book co-written with Vivianne Perret, entitled Libre, de la honte à la lumière (Free, from the shame to the light), published by Presses de la Renaissance. In this book, he shows the obstacles he had to overcome  in society and with the Church in order to be at peace with his homosexuality and to fully live his faith. He is now a school pastoral animator in a Catholic high school in Montpellier and a member of the group Rien à Guérir. 
  • Gaëlle is a young transgender woman, from an evangelic family from Île-de-France, who was subject to “conversion therapies” for three months. As a survivor from those “therapies”, she is now a member of the victim group Rien à Guérir created in 2020. Gaëlle uses her visibility on social media to alert on the danger of those practices that are destroying lives. 
  • Ludovic-mohammed Zahed is an imam asserting his homosexuality, and a researcher in human and social sciences at the CALEM Institute. He created the first French inclusive mosque welcoming LGBTQI+ Muslims. He is also the founder of Homosexuel(le)s musulman(e)s de France (HM2F) (Muslims Homosexuals of France), a French LGBT association welcoming and assisting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Muslims. 

What are “conversion therapies”?

In France, “conversion therapies” cover a large spectrum of practices that we can classify as religious, medical or societal. They aim at changing one’s sexual orientation or gender from homosexuality or bisexuality to heterosexuality and from transidentity to cisidentity. This reasoning implies the understanding of homosexuality and transidentity as diseases needing to be cured. 

Since 1990, homosexuality has been retrieved from the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) list of mental diseases. One needs to wait as late as 2019 for transidentity to be treated the same way, under the term of “gender incongruence”. This decision will be effective on January 1st, 2022. 

Today, only Albania, Germany, Brasil, China, Malta, Switzerland, some Canadian provinces and some American States forbid “conversion therapies”, even though it is only forbidden for minors in some of those countries. France is among countries that has filed a bill of law to forbid them. Nevertheless, this first step has been at a steady state for a few months now. The need to prohibit “conversion therapies” was recalled multiple times by diverse associations, notably the victim group of those practices Rien à Guérir. However, and we will come back to this, the bill has still not been scheduled on the parliamentary agenda.

First part: the necessity to criminalise “conversion therapies”

You will first hear Jean-Michel Dunand and Gaëlle’s testimonies who, by now, have not filed any official complaints.

The implementation of a law is the first step to end “conversion therapies” as  it allows the victim to file an official complaint and to be recognised as a victim. Some work remains to be done on the societal level and with religious institutions in order for those practices to end.

Taking a stand is indeed quite rare within religious institutions: it can be unwelcome, even taboo. Some extremist religious communities thus instrumentalise the blur around transidentity and homosexuality in sacred texts. 

Second part: homosexuality and transidentity in religions

Testimonies

In this part of the conference, three of our guests recall their life course, the discovery of their identity and the reaction of their surroundings. 

Religious institutions’ position on “conversion therapies”

The different guests explain to us the position of different religions, especially the Catholic and Islamic religions, on “conversion therapies” and more largely, the perception of homosexuality and transidentity. Ludovic-Mohammed Zahed teaches us that nothing in the Koran condemns homosexuality and transidentity. Regarding Catholicism, Jean-Michel Dunand explains that the bishop community in France is not publicly condemning “conversion therapies”. Nevertheless, one awaits for an open and official condemnation. Similarly, to change the given idea on homosexuality (and transidentity in a larger way) in religion, it is necessary to change the teaching of bible study on homosexuality. This relates to articles 2357, 2358 and 2359, that describe it as a “challenge”, a “grave perversion” to face and to which the solution to reach the “Christian perfection” would be in chastity. Pope Francis changed the article regarding the issue of death penalty, so there might be some hope for him to do the same regarding homosexuality. 

Our guests are in general optimistic and hope for things to change and for institutions to affirm their position against “conversion therapies”. 

The conference ends with a Q&A in interactive format with online users. 

GROW once again thanks our four guests for their time, their answers and their fight. 

We hope to see you again very soon for our next event! 

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