Allowing conversion therapies to be carried out by priests and to LGBTQI+ people who agree to them is contrary to scientific evidence available, the Cyprus psychologists’ association said on Friday.

Psychologists were responding to far-right party Elam who publicly said these exceptions should be included in the bill criminalising the pseudo-treatments which is to be voted later this month.

In a written statement expressing their opposition to the amendment, the association said conversion therapies are associated with reduced self-image, feelings of guilt, depression, suicidal tendencies, suicide attempts and other negative health indicators.

The psychologists’ association had welcomed the bill criminalising those pseudo conversion therapies on April 22 last year.

Although the bill was submitted to plenum on Thursday, far-right party Elam requested for additional time for discussion after it submitted an amendment to allow such pseudo-treatments to go ahead if an individual agrees to it. The party also considers excluding priests from the ban.

The psychologists association noted that the American Psychological Association has presented scientific data showing that conversion attempts are not effective and there is no scientific evidence to suggest that they have any effect on reducing sexual attraction or gender identity change.

On the contrary, switching efforts may encourage people to hide their sexual orientation or gender identity, and may lead to other problems such as depression, sexual problems, and low self-esteem.

Conversion efforts are harmful during adolescence and can increase suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts and depression in young adulthood, the association said. Furthermore, the involvement of mental health professionals or religious actors in change efforts is associated with worsening depressive and suicidal symptoms.

Pseudo conversion therapies, the association explained, refer to a range of unscientific, discredited and harmful practices that attempt to realign a person’s sexual orientation, usually from non-heterosexual to heterosexual.

A number of countries such as Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Ecuador, Spain, Canada, Malta, New Zealand, Ecuador, Spain, have criminalised these pseudo therapies, while other countries such as Denmark, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Israel, Norway, Finland and the United Kingdom are in the process of doing so.

At the European level, the European Parliament has strongly condemned all forms of discrimination against LGBTI people, including the practice of pseudo conversion therapies. It also stressed the urgent need to address the increasing levels of hate speech and hate crimes motivated by bias against a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, repeatedly calling for a ban on such practices, the association’s statement said.

In a 2018 resolution on the situation of fundamental rights in the EU, parliament welcomed initiatives to ban pseudo conversion therapies and urged all Member States to adopt similar measures, recalling that such practices should be criminalised.

Defending the amendment submitted regarding the concept of consent, Elam MP Soteris Ioannou told the media that those who turn to people, usually priests, for guidance, should continue to be allowed to do so.

But speaking from his own experience, a netizen shared the “barbaric” practices he suffered from his spiritual father which “haunt” him to this day after he told him of his sexual orientation. He explained that himself and other people from the LGBTQI+ community went to priests and mental health professionals, wishing to be able to lead a heteronormative live. “We were ready to do anything for that holy cause,” he said, explaining that they went there with their “consent” because they “wanted to be straight”.

Then, homosexual men were referred to specific endocrinologists for testosterone treatments, or were arranged engagements with women who were unaware of their sexual orientation and were directed to pray for hours.

“We did not know that the UN long ago labeled such practices as torture,” he said, urging deputies to pass the bill without Elam’s amendments.

In the post, he tagged MPs participating in the legal affairs committee discussing the proposed law.

Under the current proposal, a person who applies a practice or technique or provides a service with the purpose of changing, suppressing or eliminating the sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression of another person is guilty of an offence and, upon conviction, is liable to two years in prison, a fine of up to €5,000 or both.

If this practice concerns a minor or a person in a vulnerable situation, the court may impose a prison sentence up to three years or a fine up to €10,000 or both. The same penalty is provided for guardians of those subjected to such ‘treatment’.

Meanwhile, a person who announces or advertises, even covertly, such a practice, would face up to two years in prison or a fine up to €5,000, or both sentences combined.