There is no such thing as ‘sexual conversion’

Dear Editor,
I was shocked to read the headline of a recent Kaieteur News article (July 5) in which the head of our Ministry of Health discusses the topic of “sexual conversion.” As a trained public health professional, let me assure my fellow Guyanese that there is no such thing as “sexual conversion.” It is impossible for any individual or organization to change another person’s sexual orientation – be it from heterosexuality to homosexuality or lesbianism, as the Minister fears, or vice versa, from ‘gay’ to straight. That the head of our Ministry of Health is reported as believing this fallacy is lamentable indeed, and reveals a grave lack of understanding of current science and theory as it relates to sexual orientation and gender identity. Further troubling are the Minister’s reported statements about “the normal way of life,” and individuals’ choice of a “certain lifestyle.” Let me respectfully but strongly advise Minister Ramsammy to limit his public comments in the future to topics on which he is knowledgeable. To issue misinformed and misleading comments such as the ones in this article does a grave disservice to the good citizens of our nation who depend on him for guidance in these and related matters, and associates him with individuals such as Mr Edghill and Mr McGarell who adopt intolerant positions under the guise of religiosity and morality.

The fact is that the international public health regulatory and standard-setting organization – the World Health Organization – removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders more than a decade ago, and numerous legitimate medical, psychological, and public health entities since then have refuted the notion that there is anything abnormal about homosexual and bisexual people. There is also no proven scientific evidence or consensus that homosexuality is a ‘choice’; in fact, like many other human traits, the data thus far point to a complex (and not yet fully understood) combination of biological and environmental factors that interact to determine an individual’s identity and orientation, and to produce a range of sexualities and gender identities. Furthermore, each individual’s sexual orientation is limited to themselves and is not something that can be ‘transmitted’ or forced upon others.  To put it another way: straight people do not have to worry about ‘catching’ homosexuality or ‘turning gay’ if they are around gay people; that’s not how sexual orientation and gender identity function and is as silly as being afraid of turning left-handed from being around left-handed people, or thinking that you can get HIV from simply associating with HIV positive individuals. Any and all efforts to convert anybody’s sexual orientation to one other than that with which they are born are ultimately ineffective as well as inordinately harmful to the individual’s mental health and integrity. Aside from their sexual orientation, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans individuals are no different from other members of society, and are as deserving as heterosexual people of dignity, respect, and human rights. GLBT people also have the right to gather, watch movies, support one another, celebrate together, and live their lives freely and openly. To do so is not to impose, promote, or try to convert anybody else to that orientation. Again, let me reiterate that that is scientifically impossible and it is ridiculous and dangerously deceptive to try and say that such a thing is even possible.  Discovering and expressing one’s innate orientation and identity free from judgment, fear, and discrimination are essential to the positive health and welfare of all individuals – young and old. Minister Ramsammy and the Health Ministry will better serve all Guyanese if they educate themselves about this issue, promote tolerance and acceptance of difference, and treat each person in their care with dignity and respect, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Yours faithfully,
Sherlina Nageer, MPH

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