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Conversion therapy is discriminatory and should be prohibited by law (TAS 96/2024, issued on 23 February 2024)

The Ombudsman for Equality was heard by Parliament on 27 February 2024 on the citizens' initiative (KAA 6/2023 vp) for banning conversion therapy. 

No specific legislation banning conversion therapy or regulating alternative medicine has been enacted in Finland. The Ombudsman for Equality finds that, in order to clarify the legal situation, a ban on conversion therapy should be enacted.

The discriminatoriness of conversion therapy

In his report to the UN Human Rights Council (A/HRC/44/53), the Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity appointed by the UN Human Rights Council has stated that conversion therapy is targeted at a specific group of people specifically based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, specifically to violate the personal integrity and right to self-determination of these people. Therefore, such practices are inherently discriminatory which has also been stated by a number of UN treaty bodies, including the Human Rights Committee and Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. In his report, the Expert calls for UN member states to ban conversion therapy and protect children and young people from such activities.

In line with the UN Independent Expert, the Ombudsman for Equality considers that conversion therapy constitutes discrimination based on gender identity. In the Ombudsman for Equality's opinion, all activities aimed at conversion treat members of gender minorities and sexual minorities as inherently less valuable and are humiliating, derogatory and discriminatory by definition.

Section 6 of the Constitution of Finland (731/1999) provides for the governing principle concerning equality and gender equality and the obligation to promote gender equality in societal activity. The provision also applies to the legislator. This obligation is complemented by the authorities' obligation to promote gender equality, provided for in section 4 of the Equality Act, along with the prohibitions on gender discrimination laid down in the Act.

In the Ombudsman for Equality's opinion, the authorities have an active duty to take action to ensure the fulfilment of fundamental rights and human rights based on the above.

The definition and prohibition of conversion therapy

In the Ombudsman for Equality's opinion, conversion activities can take many forms. However, they are always based on a belief that an individual's gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation can and should be changed or repressed when it does not conform to that considered standard by the environment. This belief is both incorrect and harmful.
The UN Independent Expert's report identifies three main types of conversion therapy: psychotherapeutic, medical and religious. Conversion therapies can also combine these approaches.

The Ombudsman for Equality finds that conversion therapy should be comprehensively prohibited in all of their forms. This prohibition should extend to both private and public activities. The marketing and advertising of conversion therapy should also be prohibited.
In addition to involuntary conversion therapy and conversion therapy targeting children, the prohibition should also apply to consensual conversion therapy for adults with full legal capacity. People cannot waive their human rights, fundamental rights and right to non-discrimination, even with their own consent.

Compliance with the prohibition should be monitored and enforced with penalties in relation to the seriousness of the violation.

Several countries have already passed bans on conversion therapy. In the Nordic countries, Iceland and Norway have done so. In the Ombudsman for Equality's opinion, Finnish legislation could be based on the Norwegian model.

People targeted by conversion therapy should be guaranteed access to support and the necessary treatment, as well as access to justice and compensation. The prohibition must not be a mere formality. Rather, it is vital to ensure that it will actually improve the realisation of the fundamental rights of gender minorities and sexual minorities.

The full statement is attached (in Finnish).