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United Nations' Committee Against Torture Questions U.S. Use of LGBT 'Conversion Therapies

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"Everything from talk therapy to exorcism to 'orgasmic reconditioning.' "

A United Nations body aimed at ending torture around the world on Wednesday questioned practices in the United States known broadly as "conversion therapy," which tries to change people's sexual orientation gender identity.

The UN's Committee Against Torture said it was "concerned" over these practices, in a meeting that included representatives of the U.S. State Department and stakeholder groups.

Screen Shot 2014-11-12 at 1.06.12 PM US representative to the United Nations Human Rights Council Keith M. Harper looks on as he attend a session of the United Nations Committee against Torture on November 12, 2014 at the UN offices in Geneva.
Photo credit: AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINI

The body reviews the practices of every country, and the Wednesday meeting also heard concerns about sexual abuse by priests and detainees in Guantanamo Bay, according to the National Center for Lesbian Rights', which participated in the meeting. But that group said the body also raised conversion therapy for the first time, a move the group praised.

"Today, for the first time, a United Nations committee recognized that conversion therapy is an issue of international human rights," said Samantha Ames, who coordinates the NCLR's "BornPerfect" campaign. "We are incredibly grateful to the Committee Against Torture for raising up the voices of conversion therapy survivors, and ensuring their suffering is finally being vindicated."

According to the group, members of the body from Denmark, Mauritius and Nepal "repeatedly asked U.S. Department of State representatives why conversion therapy is still being practiced on LGBT youth despite the fact that it has been condemned by every major medical organization, and is known to lead to severe depression and even suicide."

The NCLR said members of the U.S. delegation would have a chance to respond to the questions on Thursday.

Ames wrote in an op-ed earlier this week that she would use the UN meeting to speak against various conversion therapy practices, which she said include "everything from talk therapy to exorcism to 'orgasmic reconditioning.' "

She wrote that the UN body has the power to address treatment that is cruel or inhuman, including treatment that is "based on the false premise that being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender is a mental illness that can and should be cured." She said conversion therapy is still practiced in some form in 48 states.

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