Brazilian Evangelical Lawmakers Push Gay Conversion Therapy Bill

Brazil gay Though opponents of the discredited “ex gay” movement achieved a partial victory last week in the United States when Alan Chambers announced the closing of his organization, Exodus International, the  battle over the legitimacy of a gay cure is only heating up in Brazil.

On June 18, the Commission for Human Rights of Brazil’s lower house of Congress approved legislation that would allow the psychological profession to treat homosexuality as a curable disorder, implying that it is possible to change one’s sexual orientation. The bill was introduced by Joao Campos, a member of the evangelical bloc, and pushed heavily by Marco Feliciano, whose appointment as the head of the Commission for Human Rights sparked nationwide protests this past spring. Feliciano is the leader of an evangelical church and is ardently homophobic, recently tweeting that AIDS is a “gay cancer.”

The bill would specifically invalidate two provisions written by the Federal Council of Psychology in 1999, which state “psychologists shall not collaborate in events or services offering treatment and cure for homosexuality,” and that “psychologists will neither pronounce nor participate in public speeches, in the mass media, reinforcing social prejudice related to homosexuals as pursuing any kind of psychological disorder.”

Although the evangelical bloc has been attempting to pass such legislation for two years now, LGBTQ rights have been a particularly contentious issue in Brazil since the National Council of Justice cleared the way for same-sex marriage in May.

Many conservative religious leaders are lending their influence to this most recent effort to derail the Brazilian LGBTQ rights movement. Foremost among them is Rev. Silas Malafaia, one of the richest and most connected evangelical figures in Brazil. Malafaia has close ties to both the Coelho family and to the Sekulow family. Rev. Silmar Coelho is a Methodist minister, and his son, Filipe, runs the Brazilian branch of Pat Robertson’s American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), of which Jay Sekulow is chief counsel.

Malafaia has a history of mobilizing his followers in order to block LGBTQ-friendly legislation in Brazil. In early June he presided over a gathering of 40,000 people in order to show support for lawmakers who oppose abortion and LGBTQ rights. To gain support for this new bill that would lift the ban on sexuality conversion therapies, Malafaia has been framing the debate in terms of human rights by asserting that LGBTQ persons have the right to seek such help if they desire it.

This sort of language is commonly employed by those on the Right, which works to invert the roles of victim and oppressor. While Malafaia says that the LGBTQ community has a “right” to seek out this sort of therapy—as if it’s an option that could somehow benefit them—such practices have continuously proven to be ineffective, and often harmful. This is the consensus reached by the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Medical Association, before their Brazilian counterparts came to the same conclusions in 1999.

The bill, Draft Legislative Decree 234/11, is not expected to gain the necessary support to pass both levels of Congress. Nevertheless, such legislation is indicative of the growing influence of evangelicals in Brazil, a group that has recently fielded a presidential nominee of its own. Meanwhile, the Brazilian public has added the bill to the long list of grievances that many have taken to the streets to protest in recent weeks.

For more information regarding the harm that “ex gay” movements perpetrate in places such as Brazil, check out Political Research Associates’ (PRA) recent report, The Ex-Gay Movement in Latin America.