«They taught us to be homophobic against ourselves, to feel disgust»

Benoit Berthe, spokesperson for the collective ‘Rien á guerir’ (Nothing to Cure), underwent conversion therapy. / r. c.

Conversion therapies to ‘cure’ homosexuality, banned last week in France, have been an ordeal for many of their victims

From the ages of 15 to 18, Frenchman Benoit Berthe underwent various sexual reorientation therapies, also called conversion therapies, to ‘cure’ his homosexuality. These practices have just been banned in France because, as French President Emmanuel Macron explained, “there is nothing to cure.”

“My parents sent me. Being practicing Catholics they had a very negative view of homosexuality at that time and thought that if they ‘fell’ into the ‘trap’ of homosexuality they would be profoundly unhappy. They did it out of love, to help me, without thinking that this would destroy the beginning of my adult life,” explains Berthe, spokesperson for the group ‘Rien á guerir’ (Nothing to cure), which brings together fifty victims of these sexual conversion therapies.

On holidays and weekends, Berthe was sent to “cure retreats” in remote places within Catholic religious communities in France, after confessing to his parents at the age of 15 that he liked boys. This revelation was a ‘shock’ for this ultra-Catholic family. They decided to do everything possible to ‘cure’ their sexual tendency. “I followed a ‘psychospiritual’ therapy of Catholic charismatic communities close to and inspired by evangelical movements,” he says.

The Gallic Parliament unanimously approved last week the bill that prohibits in France those pseudoscientific therapies that seek to modify the sexual orientation or gender identity of homosexuals, bisexuals and transsexuals to ‘turn’ them into heterosexuals. This prohibition establishes sanctions of up to three years in prison and a fine of 45,000 euros.

The book ‘God is love’ (editorial Flammarion, 2019) by Jean-Loup Adénor and Timothée de Rauglaudre, and the Arte chain documentary ‘Homotherapy, forced conversion’, by Benoit Nicolas, revealed that «those hidden and dangerous practices, well known in the US, they also exist in France». These groups act “in total freedom, sometimes even with the blessing of religious authorities,” they denounced.

Adenor infiltrated, under a false name, French Catholic and evangelical ‘ex-gay’ groups that promised to “cure” the “sin” of homosexuality, such as the Courage and Torrents de vie associations.

«Each one in his turn, took the floor. Hi, my name is Pierre and I’m attracted to people of the same sex. The group responded in unison: “Good afternoon, Pierre,” Adenor and Rauglaudre detail in their book about a meeting of the Courage association, which uses a method traced from Alcoholics Anonymous. Courage advocates chastity as a weapon to combat homosexuality.

They have been around for 30 years

In France, conversion therapies have existed for 30 years, but so far no one has been convicted of it, since the crime did not exist. “In the US, they assume it. In France, they pay close attention to what they say. They do not say that they cure homosexuals, they say that they accompany people so that they can improve”, says Berthe, who is now 32 years old.

According to experts, there are three types of conversion therapies: religious, which make a twisted interpretation of sacred texts to ‘cure’ homosexuality; the medical ones, with pseudo psychotherapists with the same purpose; and the societal ones, which act through social pressure in sports groups or in the family environment.

THE KEYS

  • Cataloging
    There are three types of sexual reorientation therapies: religious, medical, and societal.

  • Methods
    They range from courses, camps, prayer and fasting to exorcism and hormone injections.

These sexual reorientation therapies take different forms: from interviews to workshops, through reeducation camps and prayer and fasting meetings. There have also been aversion therapies, exorcisms, electroshock treatments or hormone injections. A 60-year-old member of ‘Rien à guerir’ has suffered eight exorcisms throughout his life, says the spokesman for this group.

Many times these psychospiritual therapies, like the ones Berthe followed as a teenager, mix misinterpreted religious texts with pseudo psychotherapies to try to find the causes of homosexuality and try to ‘cure’ these people.

In Berthe’s case, her conversion therapies included prayer and accompaniment with a spiritual father. «He asks you very intimate things and little by little, in a very sinuous way, he comes to show you homosexuality as a degrading form, something bad». “They taught us to be homophobic against ourselves, to feel disgust,” he denounces.

“Hell Spiral”

Many of the victims are vulnerable people who have difficulty accepting their homosexuality. “They tell them: ‘you feel bad, that means you’re sick,'” explains Berthe. To this is added a feeling of guilt, because people “try to change and nothing changes”, so they suffer a real ordeal and enter “a hellish spiral”. These practices usually leave serious psychological consequences for their victims, who may suffer from insecurity, depression and suicidal thoughts.

Getting out of that hell is not easy. “It took me five years to get out of there and another seven or eight to feel really good. And I’ve done real therapies with real therapists who have helped me understand what I’ve experienced, “says Berthe.

His parents, who took years to realize the damage they did to their son by trying to ‘cure’ his homosexuality, have apologized to him in private and in public. His mother participated in the documentary Art. “They wanted to help me. Obviously it was the opposite, ”says Berthe.

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