LGBTQ groups seek legal ban on Swiss conversion therapy – Digital Journal

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“It is an ingrained problem in most religious communities that condemn homosexuality,” Stiefel said – Copyright AFP Valentin Flauraud

Agnes Pedroro

LGBTQ organizations in Switzerland worry that without swift action, the country could become a haven for conversion therapy, which is banned in neighboring France and Germany.

Swiss lawmakers will begin debating a motion calling for the ban on Monday, a year after the government pledged to tackle the issue of conversion therapy.

Designed to change sexual orientation in favor of heterosexuality, the practice is done primarily in religious settings.

In Germany and France, “conversion attempts are already prohibited and initiatives are underway to ban them throughout the European Union,” said the Pink Cross, the Swiss national umbrella organization for gay and bisexual men.

“We absolutely have to prevent Switzerland from becoming a haven for ‘gay quacks’.”

Political and civil society representatives have pointed out the arrival in Zurich of the Bruderschaft des Weges association (Brotherhood of the Path), after the change in the law in Germany.

The group, which did not respond to AFP’s questions, says on its website that it rejects “any form of conversion treatment” and “does not offer any form of therapy.”

He says that it is a “community of men who experience conflict in their sexuality” and “for reasons of our Christian faith, that is why we do not want to live our sexuality.”

– Community pressure –

Across Europe, France, Germany, Greece and Malta have banned conversion therapy, while changes are being considered in Britain, Spain and Belgium.

According to Philippe Gilbert of the Intercantonal Center for Information on Beliefs, no religious structure in Switzerland uses the term “conversion therapy”.

“We heard the term ‘accompaniment.’ There is a wide spectrum of practices: prayer groups, laying on of hands, exorcism in certain cases, but also weekend gatherings between men to discover true masculinity,” he told AFP.

“This does not mean that within certain religious communities or para-church structures there is not some level of violence towards people, who may face suggestions or even pressure to work on their sexual orientation.”

Treatments such as electroshock therapy are not carried out in Switzerland, but LGBTQ groups insist a total ban is needed to send a signal.

Adrian Stiefel, 45, founder of the LGBTQ branch of the Protestant Church of Geneva, stressed the importance of “raising awareness” in society.

“It’s a problem that is rooted in religious-majority communities that condemn homosexuality and because of this community pressure really leaves the individual with no freedom of choice,” he told AFP.

Having grown up in Geneva in an evangelical environment, for a long time he tried to “cure” his sexual orientation through group prayer with pastors and meetings with former “so-called cured” gay men.

At 19, he underwent a week of “therapy” in the United States with a psychiatrist pastor, combining “psychotherapy with a form of exorcism.”

– ‘I feel the violence now’ –

Stiefel said these practices are often done “within a very benevolent framework of support,” making it hard to realize that “they’re not normal.”

Also raised in an evangelical environment, Isaac de Oliveira, 25, a history student in Lausanne, underwent “pastoral accompaniment” to “evolve towards heterosexuality” while growing up in the rural Wallis region of southwestern Switzerland. .

At the age of 18 he began to attend a seminar of the Torrents de Vie association, with weekly meetings for almost a year, which included praise and prayers.

“I have a brain that has been modified over the years to pursue an ideal that I am not,” he told AFP.

“I feel the violence now; it was camouflaged behind the love that was conditional.”

Conversion therapy is not the exclusive prerogative of evangelical circles, although it is regularly highlighted in the media, according to several observers.

The Swiss Evangelical Network opposes conversion “therapies” but thinks legislation is the wrong option. It highlights the right to “sexual self-determination” and the importance of “ecclesial and pastoral accompaniment” when sexuality “generates an internal conflict.”

“We are touching the foundations of religious freedom by wanting to prohibit too much,” Stephane Klopfenstein, a pastor and deputy director of the Swiss Evangelical Network, told AFP.

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