The Brazilian Federal Council of Psychology (CFP), through its president, Pedro Paulo Bicalho, reaffirmed the condemnation of practices known as “gay conversion therapy” or reversal therapies. According to Bicalho, in an interview with Agência Brasil, such practices, often rooted in fundamentalist religious beliefs, are considered forms of torture and can lead to serious mental health damage, including the development of suicidal thoughts among those subjected to them.
Since 1999, the CFP has a resolution that prohibits these practices, emphasizing that homosexuality and bisexuality are not illnesses or deviations. It is imperative that morality or moral practices are not used to condemn these sexual orientations.
The discussion takes on even graver tones when considering tragic cases, such as that of Karol Eller, a Bolsonaro-supporting influencer who was found dead after undergoing an attempt to “renounce homosexuality” in a church in Goiás. This case reflects the extreme consequences that such practices can have on individuals’ lives.
Political scientist Laira Tenca attributes the rise of these practices to the increasing conservative movement in Brazil and the greater influence of religion in social life. According to her, these so-called conservative currents have hindered the assurance of rights for the LGBTQ+ population, creating a scenario of hostility and repression.
“LGBT+ people are part of this Brazil, which, on one hand, is experiencing advancements in public policies for this population. However, on the other hand, there is also a movement of increased vocalization of hate speech, ultimately turning these people into victims. There’s a questioning of the identity and existence of these individuals. In this scenario, social organizations, churches, pastors, families are all influenced by and exposed to these discourses, coexisting with these discourses and other outdated practices”. Laira pointed out to Agência Brasil.
In the retreats promoting sexual conversion, Tenca adds that homosexuality and transgenderism are treated as a problem, a sin, a deviant behavior. From there, gay conversion therapy becomes more connected with religious discourses rather than psychology. The suffering is exacerbated, she argues, because there is a search for acceptance and belonging in a space that is constantly questioning the identity of LGBTQ+ individuals and producing hate speech.
“In this context, LGBTQ+ individuals are induced to deny a part of their own identity. The impact [na saúde mental] is alarming because sexuality is a part of an individual’s life. Having one’s sexuality repressed in this way by religious discourse and through a latent connection between guilt, error, mistake, and the impossibility of existing in the world is terrible, it’s very severe”, he said.
Héder Bello, the psychologist and researcher from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) shared his personal experience as a survivor of “gay conversion therapy” attempts and mentioned that many of these practices are promoted by religious groups, educators, and professionals from unregulated fields. Bello also discussed the historical connection between “gay conversion therapy” practices and the HIV epidemic in the 1980s, highlighting the misinformation and prejudice that surrounded the epidemic at that time.
“There are prayers, forced fasting, punishments, physical and psychological tortures. There is a movement of social isolation, there is the confinement of people so that they do not have sexual desires for people of the same sex. And [existe] there is also a spiritual logic in this sense because, if you pray to God and demonstrate your sacrifice to God, God will work this out for you”, revealed the psychologist. He further reveals the existence of groups that claim to promote exorcism, identifying homosexuality as something demonic.
According to the researcher, the scientific community – including the Federal Council of Psychology, the World Health Organization (WHO), and the American Psychiatric Association – understands that when people go through these programs, practices, and procedures of so-called gay conversion therapy, an iatrogenic effect [reações adversas causadas por tratamento médico] or negative effect is observed.
“There is no evidence that people can change their sexuality. On the contrary, sexuality is something intrinsic to the individual, a part of one’s identity. It’s not a choice, it’s not a decision” , he said. “And these attempts to repair, correct, or reverse sexual orientation and gender identity through punishments, psychological torture, forced labor, forced fasting, isolation, imprisonment, involuntary hospitalizations, family isolation, generate processes of anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorders, eating disorders, self-harm, suicidal ideation, and suicide attempts”, reported the researcher to Agência Brasil.
The scientific community, including the Federal Council of Psychology (CFP), the World Health Organization (OMS), and the American Psychiatric Association, is unanimous in stating that these practices lack scientific basis and can cause irreparable damage to individuals’ mental health, leading to disorders such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorders, eating disorders, self-harm, suicidal ideation, and suicide attempts.
The report emphasizes the urgent need for an inclusive and educational approach that promotes acceptance and respect for the diversity of sexual orientations and gender identities, advancing in ensuring rights and promoting mental health for all citizens, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.