Why sponsored ads for conversion therapy on Facebook are damaging for queer people

Following the appearance and removal of conversion therapy ads on Facebook, the issue of systemic homophobia needs to be tackled.

Woman with short orange hair pointing to a book titled 'Pray the Gay Away'

In 2018, an investigation was launched into the sudden appearance of Facebook ads promoting ‘conversion therapy’ and ‘sexual purity’, targeting users who, according to a staff member of the social media site, had shown an interest in ‘gender issues’ despite the existence of the ads going against the company’s advertising standards.

The ads included content such as a video named ‘Homosexuality Was My Identity’ and book titled ‘Help For Men With Same-Sex Attraction’, promoting conversion therapy. Facebook quickly removed them in response to a number of complaints and blamed their appearance on a “micro-targeting algorithm blunder”.

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Gay conversion therapy has been around for roughly the past 100 years and was first used in the early 20th century by psychoanalysts such as Sigmund Freud who thought of homosexuality as a pathology that required treatment, or some sort of ‘cure’.

While the harmful practice still exists today, governments around the world are beginning to take action following public criticism and research such as that published in a survey by the Ozanne Foundation. The survey received over 4,600 responses; of those, 458 people said they had tried to become straight, 91 had attempted suicide, and 22 had been forced to have sex with someone of the opposite sex.

We don’t need statistics to know that conversion therapy is damaging, but the fact that it is still in practice in some parts of the world today proves that bigotry towards LGBT+ people still exists and must be resisted.

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Following the release of Once Gay, a film documentary glorifying conversion therapy and promoted by Core Issues Trust, the only conversion therapy group to publicly advertise in the UK, minister for Equalities, Baroness Williams reaffirmed the need for a ban, telling Pink News: “It’s obviously more widespread than we first thought, and I think that’s why it’s good to take a proper look at it and see where it exists.”

It was companies like Core Issues Trust who were behind some of the conversion therapy ads on Facebook, directly targeting LGBT+ people to incite feelings of shame and self-hatred in order to push their bigoted agenda which at times can be life-threatening.

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In March 2018, Sinn Féin Senator Fintan Warfield introduced a bill to ban conversion therapy on LGBT+ which proposed that those performing it could be fined up to €10,000  and face up to a year in prison, with some politicians describing it as the “gay equivalent” of female genital mutilation. The bill passed the second stage in the Seanad in May but has not progressed any further.

Outlawing conversion therapy in Ireland and all over the world is essential but what is also needed on a consistent basis is an open public conversation concerning issues affecting the LGBT+ community to show solidarity with the Pride movement and combat systemic homophobia.

© 2019 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

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