Gay, transgender conversion therapy ban initiative heads to Parliament

The initiative launched just over a month ago and by Monday had gained the support of more than 50,000 people.

File photo of Helsinki Pride event taken in 2016. Image: Yle / Niklas Fagerström

A citizens' initiative to ban sexual orientation and gender identification conversion therapy in Finland reached the required 50,000 signatures on Monday, which means it will now be referred to Parliament for consideration.

Supporters of the initiative said they want MPs to ban treatments and therapies aimed at converting gay and transgender people into cisgender heterosexuals. Cisgender refers to people whose gender identities remain the same as the genders they were assigned at birth.

Perttu Jussila, who launched the initiative, voiced satisfaction with the support it received. Jussila started the initiative on 19 July of this year.

"It's insane that conversion treatments have not been banned yet. After all, the regulation of alternative therapies was included in [Prime Minister Sanna Marin's (SDP)] government's programme. A couple of years have passed now since the government was established, and nothing has really happened. The EU has condemned conversion therapies in its policy, and Malta already banned the treatments in 2016. I simply came to the conclusion that the issue wouldn't be addressed without a citizens' initiative," Jussila explained.

Although Jussila was glad that the initiative was heading to Parliament, the moment was also bittersweet.

"I find it sad that we are talking about the rights of sexual and gender minorities," the initiative's main backer said, adding that each advance the LGBTQIA+ community has made in Finland has required the use of citizens' initiatives to prompt MPs' actions.

Ban would apply to adults and children

Jussila's initiative calls for the banning of conversion therapies for both adults as well as children.

Acknowledging that it might be difficult to legally restrict an adult's decision to voluntarily undergo conversion therapy, Jussila said it should not prevent the drafting of a law.

"It's hardly the easiest legal issue in the world, but it is not impossible either. Human rights really are a black and white thing. We can't avoid something because it is difficult. Moreover, we have examples from around the world that show it's possible, for example, in Malta. It's unfathomable that we can't manage to do it [in Finland] but Malta could," Jussila said.

Similar efforts to criminalise conversion therapies are underway in Germany, Canada and some US states.

Teemu Kärnä, chair of the Finnish Psychiatric Association's ethics committee, said he considers the passing of the citizens' initiative to be appropriate and balanced.

"Traditionally, conversion therapy refers to attempts to influence a person's sexual orientation or gender identity. With regard to the therapies, it is important to note that there is no researched evidence that such attempts to change these things could be successful, even theoretically," he said.

The inherent problem with such therapies, Kärnä said, was the fact that they do not work. Additionally, he noted that there is growing evidence of the suffering that they cause.

"There is a clear view in Western medicine that homosexuality is a healthy and natural part of human sexuality in the same way that transsexuality and transgender sex are healthy and natural parts of human gender diversity. When a person's healthy phenomena become associated with suggestions that there is something bad or wrong with them, it naturally causes people to suffer," Kärnä said.

Kärnä noted that conversion therapies harm the development of children, saying that they are known to cause suffering, depression and functional impairment that can continue into adulthood.

Regarding adults who seek out such therapies for one reason or another, Kärnä said a healthier approach would be to offer them support so they could accept their sexual orientations or gender identities, rather than try to change them.

The Finnish Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Medical Association, the Royal College of Psychiatrists as well as the American Psychoanalytic Association have all ceased the practice of conversion therapies due to their harmful effects.