According to an investigation done by an undercover reporter for eldiario.es, the diocese of Alcalá de Henares – a city 35 km north-east of Madrid, famous for being Cervantes’s hometown – has been running conversion therapies to ‘cure’ homosexuality.
These pseudo-therapies practised also on minors, have allegedly taken place since 2009 when Juan Antonio Reig Pla became the city’s bishop.
These ‘therapies’ were highly based on religious practices and carried out by people affiliated with the diocese: according to Samuel (a pseudonym), one of the men eldiario.es interviewed, therapy sessions also involved studying the Bible and praying. “[After each session] the therapist made us kneel down in front of a sanctuary, posing her hands on my shoulders and head,” he told eldiario.es.
‘Therapeutic’ approaches – carried out either in one-on-one or group sessions – also involved asking participants about masturbation, porn and sexual preferences.
Regional authorities in the Community of Madrid launched an investigation into the allegations as such therapy is in breach of Article 70 of the law against LGBT-Phobia.
From a legal point of view, these ‘therapies’, when carried out on minors, were also in breach of the Ley Orgánica de Protección del Menor (the Organic Law on Minors’ Protection), which establishes that parents, guardians and public authorities have a duty to respect minors’ rights from possible attacks carried out by third parties.
Not only are these kind of practices “anti-scientific and dangerous” according to Spain's General Council of Psychologists, but also can have severe consequences on the subjects’ mental health.
Samuel started to hurt himself and had to go to therapy to deal with what happened to him. Samuel and the other men were told that they were not masculine enough and they had to be subjected to conversion therapies in order to find it: he was told that his way of talking and walking was too feminine and that he had to repair his masculinidad herida (his wounded masculinity).
According to Gabriel J. Martín, a psychologist and expert on LGBTI issues, these techniques are extremely dangerous, as they invalidate the person’s way of loving and having sexual relations and result in the person repressing their sexuality and identity.
The investigation generated an uproar, with people demonstrating in front of the city’s cathedral and institutions distancing from the diocese.
On April 2nd, Alcalá de Henares’s city council issued a statement in which it reiterated its support to people’s sexual and civil liberties and deemed intolerable that “these pseudo-therapies” take place, as they are actively against human rights and the 2017’s law against LGBTI-phobia approved by Madrid’s assembly.
The Observatorio Contra la LGBTfobia (the Observatory Against LGBTphobia) also took a strong stance: it demanded the Alcalá bishopric to be excluded from receiving public funds and subsidies.
The diocese responded that the accusations were fabricated by the newspaper and defined them as fake news and as a “montaje teatral construido ‘ad hoc’” (theatrical production built ad hoc).
Spain is not the only country in which conversion therapies take place: in the last year this issue has been at the centre of mainstream debates in both the US and UK. In the US, the release of films like ‘The Miseducation of Cameron Post’ and ‘Boy Erased’, generated debates on why these harmful practices still take place.
According to the National LGBT Survey, published by the British government in February, 5 percent of respondents have been offered conversion therapy and, amongst them, 51 percent say that these pseudo-therapies were conducted by faith organisations.
By Ilaria Grasso Macola / The Local