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Jewish figures join over 300 religious leaders urging ‘conversion therapy’ ban

Representatives of Christian, Muslim, Buddhist and Sikh faiths also sign declaration calling to end ‘harmful practices,’ organized by Britain’s Ozanne Foundation

Illustrative: An Israeli woman from the LGBT community demonstrates against gay conversion therapy, in southern Israel, July 14, 2019. (Tsafrir Abayov/AP)
Illustrative: An Israeli woman from the LGBT community demonstrates against gay conversion therapy, in southern Israel, July 14, 2019. (Tsafrir Abayov/AP)

LONDON, United Kingdom — More than 300 religious leaders from 35 countries on Wednesday called for a ban on “conversion therapies,” which attempt to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

The call for an end to the practice, often done in the name of a religious faith, was issued in a statement by the British Ozanne Foundation, before a London conference.

Among the signatories were representatives of the Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, and Sikh faiths, including Nobel Peace Prize winner and retired archbishop Desmond Tutu.

“We call for all attempts to change, suppress or erase a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression –- commonly known as ‘conversion therapy’ – to end, and for these harmful practices to be banned,” they said.

The practice is sometimes referred to as “reparative therapy” but experts widely regard it as pseudo-scientific, ineffective, and dangerous.

It has drawn particular attention in the United States, where it has affected hundreds of thousands of individuals.

But a report published by the New York-based LGBT advocacy group OutRight Action International said it exists “nearly everywhere in the world.”

Brazil, Ecuador, Malta, Taiwan, Switzerland, as well as parts of Australia, Canada, and the United States have banned conversion therapy.

Other countries also have local bans or mental health policies that prohibit the practice. The UK and Ireland are preparing national bans.

The London conference is funded by the UK’s Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has regularly promised to ban conversion therapy, calling it “absolutely abhorrent.”

Gay conversion therapies, also called reparative therapies, have been strongly discouraged in Israel.

Though discouraged by the Health Ministry, the practice remains legal in Israel, and is still accepted in some conservative and Orthodox circles. A bill banning gay conversion therapy by psychotherapists that passed a preliminary reading in the Knesset earlier this year sparked a coalition crisis between the Likud party, that opposed the legislation, and its unity government partners Blue and White that had backed it, while also angering Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox political allies.

The proposed legislation only bars psychotherapists from performing conversion therapy and does not forbid rabbis from performing it.

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