Earlier this week the Dutch Council of State published its advice regarding a proposed bill to ban conversion therapy, to the disappointment of some political parties and members of the LGBTQ+ community.
The bill in question refers to a law proposed in February 2022 which called for the ban of gay conversion therapy, proposing its practice to be legally punishable by a €22500 fine or a year in prison.
Conversion therapy refers to a practice where an attempt is made to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
In 2020, a study found that such practices are most common within religious communities and that around 15 “gay healers” were offering and performing conversion therapies in the Netherlands.
Two years later, the bill to punish and ban such practices was initially proposed by the parties Democrats 66 (D66) and the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD).
The bill was supported by the Green Party (GroenLinks), Party for the Animals (PvdD), Labour Party (PvdA), and the Socialist Party (SP).
Council of state’s advice
The reasoning behind the bill was clear; “Performing and offering conversion acts hinders the acceptance of different sexual orientations and gender identities,” acknowledged the Advisory Division of the Council of State in their advice.
Nonetheless, the Council of State’s examination concluded with numerous questions regarding the practical effect of the bill and difficulties with its implementation. A reason for this is the complexity of distinguishing between voluntary and forced conversion therapies.
Furthermore, the Council of State cautioned about the bill’s potential to violate rights to religious freedom.
“It is difficult to accept that the individual right to religious freedom should trump the individual right to personal freedom,” reacted Vincent Boswijk, D66 Groningen’s spokesperson on diversity and inclusivity.
“Feels like denying a part of yourself“
“Research has pointed out that conversion therapy causes severe psychological harm to those involved, leading to depression and sometimes even suicide,” Boswijk added.
In conversation with The Groningen Observer, a bisexual Dutch university student in Amsterdam attested to the negative implications of the existence of such practices. She chose to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of her story.
Raised in a Catholic household, with a mother who has suggested she speak to a priest to “ban the gay demon inside,” she has struggled with accepting her sexual identity. Despite never having gone through conversion therapy, she feels the practice “hits home.”
“I know what it feels like when you aren’t accepted fully, and it just fucking hurts,” she explained.
In response to her thoughts on conversion therapy, her conviction was clear: “Feels like denying a part of yourself, which can be very hurtful. I think it can be very dangerous.”
Despite the issues raised by the Council of State, they do not shake the hopes of those in favor of the proposed bill.
Speaking for Groningen’s D66 group, Boswijk emphasizes that “the response of the Council of State does not immediately reject the initiator’s proposal, but rather asks that they address in more detail some of the legal concerns presented in their advice.”