October 27, 2021
About 30 years ago, the World Health Organization stopped viewing homosexuality and bisexuality as psychological illnesses. However, according to the United Nations, the practice of attempting to change a person’s gender identity with pseudo-scientific methods is still in place in more than 60 countries. Russia – where homophobia is an unofficial state policy – is one of them.
The methods of so-called conversion therapy in Russia take different forms; in the predominantly Muslim north Caucasus, where homosexuals are subjected to a state-led campaign of torture and murder, it often goes hand in hand with religion. Exorcism rituals are widespread, with mullahs – members of the clergy – trying to expel geniuses who carry the sin of homosexuality out of a person’s body. Luisa, a Chechen woman victim of this treatment, describes the process like a “big room with a lot of men.” Huge speakers playing the Quran. The eardrums are torn … And [the priest]… walks around and can hit you with a stick at any time.
Christians are also no strangers to LGBTQ + conversion. Drug rehabilitation centers that offer life changing not only for alcoholics and drug addicts, but also sexual minorities can be found all over Russia. The common way to “cure” homosexuals is to deprive them of all contact with the outside world and to force them to do hard manual labor. For those who do not want to change, there are “motivating factors– muscular men who deliver the victims to the rehabilitation centers and will not tolerate any resistance.
You would expect certified therapists to help LGBTQ + people struggling with their identities in a hostile society. This is increasingly the case with the spread of Gestalt psychology and other humanist schools. But many licensed specialists prefer to cling to decades-old fallacies long disowned by mainstream science. Of the eighteen psychotherapists and sexologists contacted by the newspaper Novaya Gazeta, only two refused to treat non-existent sexual disorders
Some supporters of gay conversion therapy are outspoken. The most famous of these is Yan Goland, an 84-year-old psychotherapist from Nizhny Novgorod, who boasts of having “cured” more than 80 homosexuals. For Goland and his ilk, this pseudo-treatment is a source of income; but even some free government clinics continually diagnose patients with a ‘homosexual orientation’, such as a clinic in Simferopol, Crimea made in 2020.
Promising to cure a disease that cannot be found in the International Classification of Diseases is a blatant violation of the law, which in theory can bring a lot of easy cases to Russian courts. In practice, however, state agencies would do anything to distance themselves from the protection of LGBTQ + rights. In 2020, the Interior Ministry refused to open an investigation after a Chechen woman, Aminat Lorsanova, was abused and forced psychiatric treatment because of its orientation.
Marginalizing LGBTQ + people is a state-approved course of action, as evidenced by the 2013 “Gay Propaganda” Act. As long as this odious and outdated policy remains in place, Russia’s LGBTQ community will continue to face abuse in all areas: at home, at school, at work, and even in the doctor’s office.