French Senate debates conversion therapy


Western Europe

Marc Derœux,

French senators attend a session in the hemicycle of the French Senate in the Palais du Luxembourg in Paris. Photo AFP, Lionel Bonaventure

A proposed law, discussed in the French Senate on Tuesday, aims to ban practices to change a person's sexual orientation or claimed gender identity. French newspaper La Croix writes about it.

On 5 October, the bill was adopted unanimously in the National Assembly's first reading. The text provides a specific offence against so-called "therapists" or religious people who claim to "cure" homosexuals.

From now on, "repeated practices, behaviour or statements aimed at modifying or repressing the sexual orientation or gender identity, real or supposed, of a person and having the effect of altering his or her physical or mental health" could be punishable by "two years' imprisonment and a €30,000 fine". The penalties rise to three years and €45,000 if the person concerned is minor or vulnerable.

"There is nothing to cure. Being oneself is not a crime; we should not try to cure gender identity or sexual orientation", insisted French Minister for Equality, Elisabeth Moreno, at the opening of the debates on 5 October, in an empty Chamber in the Palais Bourbon.


Despite legislation on "intentional violence", "abuse of weakness", or "illegal practice of medicine", there are, according to the supporters of the new law, too few legal instruments to counteract conversion therapy.

In committee, the bill was nevertheless amended. The offence will not be constituted "when a health professional invites a person who is wondering about his or her gender identity and who is considering a medical course of action leading to a sex change" to reflect and to be cautious, particularly given his or her young age."

In a press release published at the end of November, a group of psychiatrists, psychoanalysts and lawyers who call themselves the "Little Mermaid Observatory" warned as a matter of fact about one point in the text: "We unambiguously condemn conversion practices aimed at changing people's sexual orientation. On the other hand, we want to warn of the dangers of including gender identity in this proposal, which will prevent psychotherapeutic care for minors suffering from discomfort and unease related to their gender."


Their concern is that the proposed law prohibits any "attitude of questioning" under the guise of combating conversion therapies. For it could be interpreted as "aiming to repress a person's gender identity when it is merely a matter of necessary caution when dealing with young people prey to the identity questions of their age", a psychoanalyst of the collective explains to La Croix.

Originating in the United States, conversion therapy, which claims to "cure" homosexuals, is not well known in France and is difficult to quantify, French newspaper Le Monde writes. During a parliamentary mission conducted in 2019, Laurence Vanceunebrock (MEP for "La République en Marche" of President Emmanuel Macron) and Bastien Lachaud (MEP for the left-wing populist party La France Insoumise) spoke of "a hundred recent cases", expressing alarm at "the increase in reports".

Global ban

The discussion about conversion therapy is not limited to France. A United Nations rights expert called in July 2020 for a global ban on "conversion therapy", calling it "degrading and discriminatory".

Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the independent expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, made the call as he presented a report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

In a statement, The Costa Rican lawyer said such practices "inflict severe pain and suffering on lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and gender-diverse (LGBT) persons, often resulting in long-lasting psychological and physical damage".

United Nations independent experts do not speak for the UN but report their findings.

In March 2018, the European parliament passed a resolution condemning conversion therapy and urging member states to ban it.



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