Richa Vashista remembers the prolonged trauma suffered by one of her clients. His parents had made him take ayurvedic drugs for a full year to rid him of his homosexuality. “Eventually, when the medicines were ineffective and made no difference to his sexuality, they had to be stopped.”
Vashista says she gets a case like this at least once a week in her practice as a psychosocial counsellor. Each patient, she says, had been made to undergo a conversion therapy, the umbrella term for pseudoscientific practices that claim to change sexual orientation or gender identity.
“These treatments are a waste of time and money,” said Vashista, “and can be traumatic for the person undergoing them.”
Twenty six years after the World Health Organisation declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder and disease in 1990, there are still doctors in India who see it as such. Even today it’s not uncommon for them to offer suspect medical treatments – such as hormone and electroshock therapy, hypnotherapy and aversion therapy – to treat lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer individuals.
To bring this homophobia to the attention of mental health professionals, Humsafar Trust, a non-profit in Mumbai, started a social media campaign in the run-up to the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia on May 17.
Its #QueersAgainstQuacks campaign collected experiences of people who were “treated for homosexuality” while reminding that there is #NothingToCure.
“Mental health professionals need to understand that sexual orientation is a part of nature’s sexual diversity and should not be treated as a mental health disease,” said Koninika Roy, advocacy manager at Humsafar Trust, which has been advocating for the rights and health of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in India since 1993.
The #QueersAgainstQuacks campaign also cites instances of doctors offering gay conversion therapies, despite the position of the World Psychiatric Association and Indian Psychiatric Society that these treatments are harmful.
Hemangi Mhaprolkar, a clinical psychologist with the Humsafar Trust, warns against the suspect therapies. “Conversion and behaviour modification therapies can be accessed but the effects will be detrimental," she said. "There will be changes in gait, in affect [the way people emote] and overall personality. The person will not remain the same. Any therapies that are based on conditioning will be ineffective in the long run as the effects are not long lasting.”Roy explained: “We want to show India, and the world at large, that being LGBTQ is not an illness or a disease. They are not sick and cannot be cured. If anything, homophobia, trans phobia, and quackery are the real diseases that need to be fixed.”