Act to Protect against Conversion Treatments

Spahn: “An important signal to society, to all those who struggle with their homosexuality.”

7 May 2020

Medical interventions aimed at deliberately changing or suppressing the sexual orientation or self-perceived gender identity of a person (so-called conversion therapies) and the advertising of such therapies are to be banned in future. That is the aim of the “Act to Protect against Conversion Treatments”, which the Bundestag adopted on 7 May 2020. Violations of this law are to be penalised with a prison sentence of up to one year or a heavy fine.

Homosexuality is not a disease. That’s why the term therapy is misleading. We want to ban so-called conversion therapies as far as possible. Wherever they are carried out, they often cause serious physical suffering and emotional distress. These so-called therapies make people sick, not healthy. The ban sends out an important signal to society, to all those who struggle with their homosexuality: It’s okay to be the way you are.

Federal Minister of Health Jens Spahn

The law is scheduled to come into force mid-2020. The law does not require the approval of the Bundesrat.

What is to be banned?

  • Conversion treatments for minors in general, as well as

  • for persons of legal age, whose consent was obtained without their volition (e.g. coercion, threat, deception, error), for instance, if the practitioner does not inform them of the treatment’s harmfulness.

  • Advertising, providing and arranging such treatments.

What happens in case of a violation?

  • Violations of the ban on conversion treatments are to be punished with a prison sentence of up to one year.

  • Violations of the ban on advertising, providing and arranging shall be penalised with a fine of up to 30,000 euros.

To whom does the ban apply?

  • The ban applies to everyone, not just to professionals in this field.

  • Adults or other legal guardians or persons with parental authority can also be punished in cases of gross violation of their duty of care or their educational responsibilities.

What treatments are exempted from this ban?

  • Treatments for disorders of sexual preference (e.g. exhibitionism, paedophilia) and

  • treatments that help a person better express their self-perceived gender identity or their desire to acquire a more feminine or masculine physique.

Does the ban also apply to pastoral or psychotherapeutic conversations?

  • The ban will only apply if the conversation partner deliberately attempts to influence someone’s sexual orientation or their self-perceived gender identity.

What provisions besides the ban does the Bill contain?

  • A counselling service by the Federal Centre for Health Education (Bundeszentrale für gesundheitliche Aufklärung/BZgA) for all those personally affected, family members and, for instance, people who deal with the topic on a professional basis and provide advice.

  • This service will be available free-of-charge, in multiple languages and anonymously, in the form of telephone and online counselling.

Why do we need a ban on so-called conversion therapies?

In Germany, organisations still exist that hold and spread the conviction that non-heterosexual orientations (such as homosexuality or bisexuality) or non-conforming gender identities (e.g. transgenderism) are “disorders” and therefore require treatment. They offer so-called conversion therapies, aimed at deliberately changing or suppressing a person’s sexual orientation or their self-perceived gender identity.

The World Health Organization has stated that homosexuality and transgenderism are not disorders and thus there is no need for a “therapy”. In 2013, the World Medical Association condemned so-called conversion therapies as a human rights violation, declaring them incompatible with the ethics of medical conduct and, in 2014, the German Medical Assembly warned against their negative effects on health.

Why are so-called conversion therapies dangerous?

None of the well-known studies permit the conclusion that it is possible to permanently change sexual orientation. What has been scientifically proven, however, is that such “therapies” can cause severe damage to health such as: depression, anxiety disorders, loss of sexual feelings and an increased risk of suicide. They have also been proven to lead to stigmatisation and discrimination effects on third parties by way of minority stress.

Why a separate law and not a provision in the German Criminal Code (Strafgesetzbuch/StGB)?

The specific injustice of so-called conversion therapies lies above all in the encroachment on the sexual and gender self-determination and the impairment of the health of those affected, mostly by means of psychological influence. Existing criminal law does not do this aspect sufficient justice. A separate law enables the bundling of penal provisions, provisions on administrative fines and the counselling services under one law; otherwise, it would have been necessary to distribute these provisions across several different laws.

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