In 1974 Jacques Zonne was locked up in a farm for two years against his will to “cure” his homosexuality. Zonne was 22 years old and worked at a bookshop in Vlaardingen, in the southwest of The Netherlands, after leaving the military. His colleagues informed they could not pay him, but would instead offer him a vacation. Jacques thought it sounded like a good idea, so his colleagues brought him to a farm in Doornspijk, in Flevoland.
“I knew I was gay, I just didn’t really talk about it”. On the second week in the farm, Jacques told one of the staff members he was gay, and everything suddenly changed. Jacques was submitted to several sessions of exorcisms, and attempts to convert his homosexuality so he would become straight: “They put me in a room with four other staff members and made me kneel on the floor while they started praying”, said Jacques about his first exorcism session. “The first two attempts didn’t work, and by the third time I was so broken that I let out a big scream, and they said that that was the moment the devil came out of me. I couldn’t handle it anymore but then they began a healing prayer that took more than one hour. After that I was completely mentally broken”. All of Jacques’ possessions were given to the farm, taking his independence away.
After two failed attempts, Zonne managed to escape the farm with outside help. He had been told by the farm staff that his parents did not want to see him again, so going home was not an option. Jacques then received the help of an organization who took him in to help him get his life back together.
Now at 71 years old, Jacques is an activist for banning conversion therapy, given it is still legal in The Netherlands. A 2020 research made for the Dutch government estimates that there are around 15 people or organizations that provide what they call Sexual orientation and gender identity and expression conversion efforts (SOGIECE).
In the research, organizations like Hart van Homos, Onderweg (previously named Stichting Onze Weg) and Vernieuwd are referred to as organizations that promote SOGIECE.
Philip Nunn, founder of Vernieuwd together with his brother in law, explains that they created their website to bring a christian perspective on sexual feelings and gender dysphoria: “[The idea] is to give people with homosexual feelings a platform, those who have stories to tell… Stories for example where their sexual orientation begins to change. Where bisexual people begin to feel hetero or begin to move into fluidity“, says Nunn.
Philip defends that people should have the right to have coaching, or therapy counseling if they want to explore the possibility of changing their homosexuality. Nunn also reinforces that although not everyone can change, he believes it is possible for some individuals: “Some people when they stop making homosexual feelings their core identity they become somewhat weaker, they become less strong. And sometimes after a couple of years they detect a heterosexual feeling”, he says. According to Nunn, homosexual people quoted on the website claimed they managed to fall in love with someone from the opposite sex and form a family.
However, Philip believes that people who are homosexuals and act on it cannot live in harmony with God: “I keep it simple, you’re living in disobedience. I am convinced that everything the God who created us and designed us, everything that he requires of us is for our own good”.
On the 30th of January 2023, the Dutch Council of State issued an advice report against banning conversion therapy in The Netherlands. The document was a response to a proposal, made in 2022 by multiple parties, to ban the treatment.
The report from the Council of State explained that some of the reasons why they advise against banning therapy conversion is that it goes against freedom of religion, as well as it forbids people who want to go through such therapy treatment.
Even though conversion therapy might not be the same as it was 50 years ago, the practice of SOGIECE still brings the idea that being gay means that there is something wrong with someone’s identity, explains Yasin Koc, assistant professor and researcher at the Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences, at the University of Groningen. “People internalize negative thoughts and ideas about their identity”, he says.
The professor assures that there is no scientific proof that conversion therapy works: “You may not act on it [being homosexual], but trying to change your attraction, your feelings, your arousal towards a certain group of people is not possible”.
Yasin adds that suppressing your identity is denying it, and it can bring negative consequences to people who go through the conversion process: “You start to have shame about your identity… it makes you feel like you’re wrong and all these feelings are associated with negative mental health, lower self-esteem, lower life satisfaction and in some situations even suicidal ideation”.
If the proposed bill to ban conversion therapy is approved, any person or organization that offers the service can be punished with a €22.500 fine and up to two years of jail sentence. Additionally, practitioners who offer conversion therapy can lose their professional register.