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Germany OK's Ban on Conversion Therapy for Youth

German Pride marchers

Germany has approved a ban on the use of conversion therapy on minors.

The Bundestag — the elected house of Parliament — passed the legislation Thursday, according to activist group OutRight Action International. It will now go to President Frank-Walter Steinmeier for his signature, but that is considered largely a formality. Chancellor Angela Merkel and her Cabinet had endorsed the measure in December.

The law bans the use of conversion therapy, designed to turn LGBTQ people straight or cisgender, on anyone under 18. It also bans the use of the discredited practice on people age 18 to 26 if they are subjected to coercion, threats, or deception. Advertising of the practice is prohibited as well.

Germany will be the fifth nation to ban conversion therapy, joining Malta, Ecuador, Brazil, and Taiwan, OutRight notes. Canada is considering a nationwide ban, and in the U.S., 20th states have prohibited use of the practice on minors, as have more than 70 cities and counties.

The German legislation did not go far enough to satisfy some LGBTQ activists. The nation’s Lesbian and Gay Association called for a total ban on the use of conversion therapy on people up to age 26, and some political parties did too, German newspaper Badische Neueste Nachrichten reports.

But Health Minister Jens Spahn, Germany’s highest-ranking gay official, said the law had to be designed to stand up to legal challenges. “I want a ban which will be robust, including if it’s brought before the courts,” Spahn told Reuters.

He did not go into detail about potential challenges, but Reuters notes that “German law makes it easier to protect minors, whereas freedom of speech and conscience laws may confuse the issue for those above 18.”

“Young people are being forced into conversion therapies,” Spahn added, “and so it is very important that they should find support in the existence of this law: a clear signal that the state does not want this to happen.”

International LGBTQ rights groups praised Germany’s move.

“So-called conversion therapy efforts are based on the belief that cisgender heterosexuality is the norm, and transgender identities and same-sex attraction not only fall outside the norm, but have to be changed, if need be by brutal, inhuman force,” Outright Executive Director Jessica Stern said in the group’s press release. “The German Bundestag took an incredibly important step today — by banning ‘conversion therapy’ it sent a powerful message that LGBTIQ people are not in need of change or cure. At the same time, demand for ‘conversion therapy’ will only decrease if acceptance of LGBTIQ people grows. I urge authorities in Germany to bolster the legal ban on ‘conversion therapy’ with measures designed to promote understanding and inclusion of LGBTIQ people, thus tackling the root causes of these harmful, inhuman practices.”

“Germany is the first major European country to protect LGBTQ people from this insidious practice, which is one of the primary drivers of suicide and depression among LGBTQ youth,” said Mathew Shurka, a conversion therapy survivor and cofounder of Born Perfect, a project of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, in an NCLR release. “Especially during this time, when many LGBTQ people are feeling more isolated and alone than ever, Germany’s leadership is a powerful example of how governments can stand up for LGBTQ youth.” 

“Germany is setting a new international standard for protecting LGBTQ youth and for recognizing conversion therapy for what it is — a public health crisis that is devastating the lives of LGBTQ young people,” added NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter. “Germany’s leadership on this issue is groundbreaking and will set an example for other countries to follow.” 

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