This week, the United Nations Committee Against Torture (CAT) took the historic step of expressing concern about “conversion therapy,” also known as “ex-gay” or “reparative” therapy. But while much of the Western world is taking steps to eradicate the barbaric practice, U.S. conservatives are doing everything they can to spread the anti-LGBTQ practice in Africa.
PRA’s senior researcher for religion and sexuality, Rev. Dr. Kapya Kaoma, wrote an article last month documenting how these U.S. culture war-exporters are increasingly turning to “ex-gay therapy” in African countries as a strategy to advance their propaganda that being gay is a choice—a critical component for them in their message to falsely portray Western LGBTQ people as predators invading local communities to recruit children.
Sadly, the so-called “ex-gay movement” has found a home in global evangelicalism. In October, 2010, in Cape Town, South Africa, 4,000 global evangelical leaders from 198 countries convened for the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization—the biggest gathering of global evangelical leaders in modern history. Among the attendees were members of Exodus Global Alliance (EGA), a network of “ex-gay” groups. The Alliance was tasked with leading a discussion on “Sexuality, Truth, and Grace.” In its presentations, EGA argued that “compassionate” conversion therapy and prayers for LGBTQ people were the best approaches to homosexuality.
Human rights groups lauded CAT’s advancement of the discussion. The National Center for Lesbian Rights’ (NCLR) #BornPerfect campaign sent survivors of the dangerous conversion practices to testify before the committee. “Today, for the first time, a United Nations committee recognized that conversion therapy is an issue of international human rights,” said Samantha Ames, NCLR’s #BornPerfect Campaign Coordinator. “We are incredibly grateful to the Committee Against Torture for raising up the voices of conversion therapy survivors, and ensuring their suffering is finally being vindicated.”
Dr. Mike Davidson, director of a UK-based conversion therapy group called Core Issues Trust, responded to the U.N. advancement saying “This is a stark reminder of the determination of a certain lobby, driven by a radical ideological agenda, to close down options for those facing unwanted same-sex attraction.”
Despite no cases of ex-gay therapy ever having successfully been proven to alter sexual orientation, andDavidson added “Science and experience demonstrate that help with unwanted same-sex attraction can be effective and is far from harmful.”
But while major success against the practice of attempting to alter and change a person’s innate sexual orientation have been piling up over the past few years—the prominent ex-gay therapy group Exodus International shut down in 2013 after apologizing for promoting the debunked practice, and several U.S. states have now banned the “therapy” from being performed on minors—those successes have not translated to non-Western nations.
The plea to “help gays escape” homosexuality is perhaps the most commonly repeated mantra across the African continent. From vicious anti-LGBTQ figures such as Martin Ssempa of Uganda, to ostensibly more respectable evangelical leaders such as Rev. Pukuta Mwanza (Executive Director of the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia), religious leaders endorse prayers and counseling as an answer to homosexuality. Despite the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby (leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion) telling Zambians that homosexuality is a global and human rights issue, Rev. Mwanza (who spoke afterwards) asked LGBTQ persons to seek “spiritual help and prayers” from the Church. In his judgment, the church is the hospital for African gays—if they accept to be “cured.”
This characterization of LGBTQ people as “sick” and in need of healing is also used to jail those who are perceived to be “against the cure.” Anti-LGBTQ leaders argue that allowing sexual minorities to live among the public will not only pollute the social life of communities, but also pose a risk to public health and must be forced into therapy, locked up, and/or forced to live in exile. “The choice is theirs!”
Worse still, based on the conviction of the validity of reparative therapy bolstered by U.S. conservative evangelical talking points, some advocate policies that outlaw homosexuality and even allow forced therapy.
To learn more about how U.S. conservative Evangelicals are exporting the culture wars to Uganda, Nigeria, and other African nations—and what you can do to stop it—read American Culture Warriors in Africa: A Guide to the Exporters of Homophobia and Sexism.