The Malta Independent 2 March 2021, Tuesday

Gay conversion therapy: Church misses opportunity to build bridges - Drachma

Monday, 22 February 2016, 06:16 Last update: about 6 years ago

The Drachma LGBTI group and Drachma Parents Group have joined in the debate on the Church’s position paper on the gay conversion therapy bill, saying the Chirch has missed an opportunity to build bridges with the LGBTI community.

In a statement, the two groups said:

1.        We expected this group of experts commissioned to write this Paper to include LGBTIQ people who are living this reality. It would have been appropriate for the Church to dialogue with us about this delicate subject, especially after the significant gesture done by the Church when a few months ago it requested a member of Drachma to form part of the panel that prepared the Position Paper on the Embryo Act and to give a talk about LGBTIQ matters to the College of Parish Priests.

2.        We expected the Church not to miss out on an opportunity to build bridges with the LGBTIQ community by stating clearly that it is against conversion therapy, even though there might be certain elements in the bill that may require further clarification.

3.        We expected that the Church would sympathise with all LGBTIQ persons who had to go through conversion therapies and ask for forgiveness in the name of members within the Institution, amongst which priests, who recommended or practised conversion therapy. At no point was there any indication of concern towards the pain of such people or of their families.

4.        We expected the prime concern of the paper to be the psychological, emotional and spiritual damage suffered by victims of conversion therapies. Instead the Paper focuses on the fear that the autonomy of the professionals might be at risk or that the professionals might be subject to criminalisation. In its conclusion, the Paper is critical of the Bill that attempts to address the needs of a vulnerable group at the expense of the professionals who can face criminal charges. However, seen from a different angle, the Paper is also defending the interests of professionals at the expense of a vulnerable group. 

5.        However, it is important for us to clarify that we are not encouraging in any way the loss of the independence of professionals in this field of work or that we endorse the possibility of individuals operating in a genuine and authentic manner to be criminalised. Indeed, we are grateful for all those professionals who have been consistent with the highest ethical standards in the service they offer to LGBTIQ people and their relatives.

6.        We expected the Paper to clearly state that no sexual orientation is a disorder or an illness, and hence, does not require the person to seek any form of healing.

7.        We did not expect the Paper to say that the law can be a deterrent on anyone who out of his or her own free well seeks therapy to change his or her sexual identity or orientation. On the contrary, we expected the Church to educate the public by explaining that one’s sexual orientation should not need to be changed.

8.        We did not expect the Paper to state that an individual has the right to change his or her gender identity. In reality, when a transgender person undergoes gender reassignment, s/he would not be changing gender but aligning the biological sex that the person is born with to his or her internal gender identity. This is not conversion therapy. Any counselling done before the transition (which is not required by law) does not seek to trigger off any form of change but to support the person so that prior to the transition, the individual develops more self-awareness; is informed about the different stages that s/he will be going through; and is made aware of the consequences; and to be in a position to make an informed decision. This is not conversion therapy. The expert members of the Board commissioned to draft this Paper should know better. The Bill is referring to LGBTIQ people who attend therapy sessions with the aim to ‘heal’ from their sexuality or transsexuality. This type of therapy should not be allowed to keep on happening. Hence, we see little purpose for the references made in this Paper to the statements issued by the European Court.

9.        We did not expect this Paper (paragraph 7b) to say that one should change sexual orientation for religious reasons. One can, for religious reasons, change or address behaviour, and this equally applies to gay and straight persons. Unfortunately,one can also opt to suppress one’s sexual identity. However, we repeat once again that sexual orientation can never be modified. Therefore, why does the Church offer false hopes, giving the impression that it is defending the promotion of conversion therapies? It is actually due to religious and spiritual reasons that conversion therapy should not be practised, since sexual orientation and gender identity are a gift from God, and any form of therapy should encourage a person to embrace with serenity this God-given gift.

10.    Conversion therapy does not include spiritual direction offered to people (gay or straight) who seek to lead a celibate life. The purpose of conversion therapy is not to modify behaviour but aims to change sexual orientation.

11.    We did not expect the Paper to refer to paedophilia as an example of a‘grey area’. It is surprising how a board of experts (which includes a psychologist) was not capable of making the difference between paedophilia and homosexuality, which are totally unrelated to each other.

12.    We did not expect the Position Paper to make any form of connection between homosexuality and childhood traumas, thus implying that the homosexual identity is the cause of pathological development. It is interesting to pose the question whether the same approach would have been taken with a straight person who has undergone childhood traumas. Would s/he have been advised to heal from his or her heterosexuality and would the sexual identity been directly linked with the trauma?

13.    The example quoted in reference to bisexual persons who are married clearly shows a lack of understanding of the bisexual reality and confirms the point made earlier on, that this Board would have benefitted extensively by including in it LGBTIQ representatives. 

14.     We are aware that there might be aspects of this Bill that require further clarification so that there are no hindrances in the work of the professionals. Therefore, we encourage more dialogue in this matter.

15.     It is sad to see that this Position Paper did not seek to build bridges with LGBTIQ persons and with their families in Malta. On the contrary, the Church tended to erect walls. Drachma has often supported people who were broken due to this mentality and to the intervention of these so-called therapies. Drachma is still open to dialogue with everyone and would like to extend this invitation to the Archbishop and to the Church in Malta. Drachma is willing to offer its humble contribution if asked.

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