By Anastasia Moloney
BOGOTA, May 6 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) — One in five LGBTQ people have undergone conversion therapy to make them straight in Colombia, rising to one in three trans people, researchers said on Wednesday, amid global moves to ban the practice as it can cause severe mental health problems.
High levels of psychological distress were evident, with one in two thinking of suicide, and one in four attempting to end their lives in Colombia's largest LGBTQ survey by the US-based Williams Institute at UCLA and Colombia Collaborative Project.
"Considering the levels of violence, victimization, and discrimination that LGBTQ respondents experienced, it is not surprising that respondents reported such high rates of suicidal ideation and attempts," said co-author Jennifer Florez-Donado.
"As a clinical psychologist, every week I have parents who come to me with their LGBTQ children ... so that I can help their children become heterosexual," she said, adding that Colombian families also turn to religious leaders to cure the "illness."
Worldwide, only Brazil, Ecuador, and Malta have national bans on conversion therapy, condemned as ineffective and harmful to mental health by more than 60 associations of doctors and psychologists globally, according to the LGBTQ advocacy group ILGA.
The United States, Canada, Chile, Mexico, and Germany are among the countries seeking to outlaw the treatment, which can include electric shock treatments, hormones, and "praying away the gay."
Catholic-majority Colombia is a socially conservative country, but significant LGBTQ gains have been made in recent years, with laws passed since 2015 allowing same-sex couples to marry and adopt and trans people to change their identity cards.
The survey highlighted that trans people continue to be the most stigmatized LGBTQ group. Nearly one in four trans people have reported physical abuse from a police officer — more than double the rate among gay Colombians.
Researchers said the survey, which involved almost 5,000 respondents, could help policymakers better address the urgent mental health care needs of LGBTQ people in Colombia.
"This research shows how critical it is to develop suicide prevention and violence treatment programs for LGBTQ people in the country," Florez-Donado told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
(Reporting by Anastasia Moloney; Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)