The idea that repeatedly shocking someone with an electrical current will change their sexual orientation or gender identity is so barbaric that it seems like something from the distant past. But, electroshock "conversion" therapy is still used against LGBTQ+ people in some parts of the world today.
China's government, for example, is currently facing criticism from Human Rights Watch — a non-profit that reports on and advocates for human rights around the world — for failing to end gay conversion therapy in the country.
The organization released a statement Tuesday saying that the Chinese government should "take immediate steps" to stop allowing public hospitals and private clinics to offer conversion therapy for their patients.
"It’s been more than 20 years since China decriminalized homosexuality, but LGBT people are still subjected to forced confinement, medication, and even electric shocks to try to change their sexual orientation," Graeme Reid, LGBT rights director at Human Rights Watch, said in the statement. "If Chinese authorities are serious about ending discrimination and abuse against LGBT people, it’s time to put an end to this practice in medical facilities."
Human Rights Watch staff interviewed 17 people who had experienced conversion therapy in China for a 52-page report about the facilities that offer electroshock therapy, the so-called "treatments," and what these people have endured. According to the report, people interviewed were subject to five different "abuses."
They were forced to go to conversion therapy against their will (often within days of coming out to their parents), denied freedom and privacy, verbally harassed and intimidated, forced to take medication through pills or injection, and shocked with an electrical current.
"The nurse set up a screen in front of me, where they later started playing gay porn on the screen. The doctor asked me to watch the what was playing on screen and asked me to focus on what was content of the video … A few minutes later, they switched on the electric current," one of the interviewees said, according to the report. "My wrists and arms felt numb, my head too. But the most painful part was my stomach. I don’t know why, probably they used stronger electric current on the part attached to my stomach."
This person was shocked six or seven times during that first session, they said, and had to go back for electroshock therapy four times a month.
In light of these interviews, the Human Rights Watch is recommending that the Chinese government ban the use of conversion therapy in public hospitals and private clinics and hold these facilities more accountable — especially since the use of conversion therapy is actually illegal in the country under its 2013 Mental Health Law.
Of course, conversion therapy isn't only an issue in China. In fact, the practice still isn't illegal at the federal level in the United States, and only nine states had laws banning conversion therapy for minors as of 2016.
Conversion therapy has been discredited by nearly every major medical and psychological organization, yet U.S. legislators continue to propose laws that would protect conversion therapy — like an Oklahoma bill that was thankfully defeated in 2016 — and Vice President Mike Pence has been criticized for pro-conversion therapy comments he's made in the past.
Although many of us might believe that such a homophobic and harmful practice has to be a thing of the past, reports like this show that it's still happening — and we need laws to protect LGBTQ+ people from harm.
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