Belgium to end LGBTQ+ 'conversion therapy' in 2023

The new law bans any treatment that attempts to change a person's sexual orientation or gender identity.

Belgium flag waving over government building representing plans to ban conversion therapy.
Image: Luiza Giannelli on Unsplash

Belgium announced plans to introduce legislation banning all practices of so-called ‘conversion therapy’ for LGBTQ+ people by 2023.

In recent years, Belgium has passed significant legislative reforms in favour of LGBTQ+ rights, but conversion therapy remains so far legal. If passed, the new law would effectively ban any treatment that attempts to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, and convicted violators will face a fine of €300 and up to two years in prison.

In a press statement, Belgium’s Secretary for Gender Equality, Equal Opportunity and Diversity, Sarah Schlitz, shared: “The opportunity to be yourself and the freedom to live the way you want is a fundamental principle of our society that must not be compromised under any circumstances… This prohibition is a powerful act to protect the victims from this symbolic, psychological and sometimes physical violence.”

The cruel practice of conversion therapy is based on the false idea that queer identities are an illness that can be cured. Historically, it has included psychotherapy, electroshock, sexual abuse, or prayer with the intent to change or suppress a person’s queer identity to align with normative conceptions of gender and sexuality. The treatment has been proven to be dangerous and ineffective and causes long-term trauma and harm.

Even though it has been widely criticised by health experts, including the World Health Organisation, for being unethical and akin to torture, conversion therapy continues to be legal in several countries, including Ireland. However, legislation to end the practice is gaining momentum, with several states banning it in recent years.

Brazil was the first country to terminate the practice in 1999. More recently, Canada banned conversion therapy in 2021, and New Zealand in 2022. Mexico’s Senate voted on a nationwide ban earlier this year as well. In the UK, Theresa May made a commitment to end the practice in 2018, but the proposed law is yet to be passed and it excludes trans and non-binary people.

The ban on ‘conversion therapy’ in Belgium has been approved by the Minister’s Council of the government. The law will now be voted upon in Parliament and, if successful, will be fully implemented in early 2023.

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