Top image: HKFP / Carrie Kellenberger, via Flickr
Gay conversion therapy can sometimes sound like the stuff of fiction. An account by a Singaporean named ‘Patrick Lee’ of his experience in such therapy involves everything from a church-led conspiracy to electro-shock therapy that caused him to lose blocks of his memory. Some Singaporeans might even remember when this story first surfaced on the internet in 1999 (or 2007, depending on which site you read).
For those unfamiliar with this more sinister side of the “medical” world, gay conversion therapy is indeed a thing. And as soon as March this year, Taiwan’s Ministry of Health and Welfare plans to ban the practice of attempting to transform a homosexual individual’s sexual orientation to that of being heterosexual.
Just last month, on the 30th of December, the ministry published a draft regulation listing conversion therapy as a prohibited treatment. According to the Physicians Act, any doctor engaging in such prohibited treatments will be subject to fines between NT $100,000 and NT $500,000. They also risk suspension for one month to one year. Currently, a 60-day public consultation is being held before regulations are issued in accordance with this draft.
Regardless of your beliefs when it comes to a person’s sexuality, conversion therapy is worth taking seriously for what it often involves. Because this isn’t a mainstream form of psychological treatment, there are no professional standards or guidelines for it.
Back in the 1960s and 70s, treatment methods included using electricity to induce seizures in patients or giving them nausea-inducing drugs while showing them same-sex erotica. Other methods involve oestrogen treatments to reduce libido in men, while less invasive “talk therapy” tended to emphasise questionable, non-empirically proven ideas like how having an overbearing mother and a distant father can make someone gay.
Many similar experiences are detailed in Patrick’s story, which singles out the Singaporean Church of Our Saviour (COOS) for what he went through. A quick check with a confidential source revealed that COOS’s Choices ministry, which runs its gay conversion programme, is not currently staffed by anyone. Focus on the Family Singapore, the local chapter of an American Christian conservative organisation known to misrepresent its research to advance an anti-LGBT agenda, is said to offer similar programmes.
On the 17th of May 1990, the World Health Organisation removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders. It is for this same reason that most health professionals resist the idea that you can “cure” homosexuality. If anything, the real dangers are prejudice, radical religious agendas, and pressure to conform to heterosexual norms.
With Taiwan being all set to become the first Asian country to legalise gay marriage, perhaps it will lead the change that the region very much needs.