Greece has joined the 14 countries that have some form of national conversion therapy ban – but there’s a catch. (ARIS MESSINIS/AFP via Getty Images)
Greece has become the latest European nation to outlaw barbaric conversion therapy – but the ban will not cover “consenting” adults.
On Tuesday (10 May), parliamentarians in Greece voted to ban LGBTQ+ conversion therapy offered by healthcare providers to “vulnerable” people, such as minors and those under legal assistance.
The measure, introduced by health minister Thanos Plevris, blocks professionals from inviting, promoting or advertising conversion therapy, whether performed by themselves or other professional or non-professional third parties.
A government official confirmed Wednesday afternoon (11 May) that counsellors and medical professionals will face fines or jail time for violating the law – unless they get an adult’s “consent”.
“We have allowed conversion therapy amongst adults if there is specific consent,” Alex Patelis, chief economic advisor to prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, said at the Council of Europe’s 2022 IDAHOBIT Forum.
Footage of the conference seen by PinkNews saw Patelis argue that legislating the ban was “difficult” and claim that ministers seesawed between outlawing all forms of the discredited practice and preserving “free speech”.
He confirmed that “professionals” who seek to change or suppress the sexual orientation and gender identity of minors will face criminal charges. Patelis said the government is defining such “professionals” as those who “receive monetary compensation for their services”.
OLKE, an LGBTQ+ group in Athens, worries that this narrow definition may exempt faith-based forms of the practice, such as exorcism, and leave thousands of young people vulnerable to abuse. A website funded by the Greek Orthodox Church, for example, openly promotes conversion therapy.
“‘Professionals’ in Greece can be priests, religious groups or alternative lifestyle groups that apply all kinds of conversion therapies and they are left out of the new law,” the group told PinkNews.
“These persons or groups will go unpunished applying their harmful practices because they are not explicitly mentioned in the law and will never face criminal charges.”
Greek government official says ‘broad’ conversion therapy ban would infringe ‘free speech’
Speaking over Zoom during a session on business in the LGBTQ+ sector, Patelis worried that a stricter law would censor “free speech” between professionals and adult patients.
“The problem is that what if I genuinely don’t know what my sexuality is and I go to my parents and say I don’t know if I’m gay or straight, I need to talk to you,” he said. “Under a very broad definition of the law that would be illegal and that would create a lot of problems for free speech.”
Patelis said the measure was inspired by debates around Britain’s proposed conversion therapy ban that will not only allow “consenting” adults to undergo treatment but allow faith-based conversion therapy and trans conversion therapy to go on.
Britain’s ban, among other reasons, is why the nation slipped four places down ILGA-Europe’s annual ranking of the most LGBTQ-friendly places in Europe.
“This issue was brought to the forefront in the big debate in the UK regarding gender identity,” Patelis said. “A very strict ban against conversion therapy, a psychologist would be unwilling to talk to you.”
“We have to be realistic with what a law can and cannot achieve,” he added.
To see Britain’s botched ban be used as a blueprint by Greece was a difficult watch, said Jayne Ozanne, a former LGBTQ+ adviser for the British government and an attendee of the conference.
“International human rights lawyers are clear that governments have a duty to protect people from harm and cannot, therefore, allow people to consent to this form of abuse,” she said.
Concerns about Greece’s ban do not end there. OLKE said it is already commonplace for conversion therapy providers to not advertise their services. Nevertheless, those who seek out or are “blackmailed” into receiving treatment are often met with high fees.
“Greece lost another chance to show a democratic face and respect its LGBTQ+ citizens, like other European countries do,” OLKE added.
“Instead of criminalizing all kinds of conversion therapies as harmful, they chose to leave the ‘loophole’ of consent.”
Sarah Schlitz, Belgium’s secretary of state for gender equality, equal opportunities and diversity, said she will fulfil a 2018 resolution by the European Parliament that all European Union member states legislate bans on “damaging” conversion therapy.
Rémy Bonny, a Brussels-based LGBTQ+ activist and executive director of Forbidden Colours, praised Belgium for following France and Germany‘s lead by moving to stamp out all forms of conversion therapy rather than “scapegoating” as Britain and Greece have.
“There is no such thing as giving consent to conversion therapy. Are we allowing self-mutilation in Greece or the UK?” he asked. “No. So why would we allow psychological self-mutilation?
“I don’t see the ‘consent’ in this.”