Homosexuality is not an illness and cannot be ‘cured’, two leading Lebanese mental health organizations have agreed in a landmark ruling. The Lebanese Psychiatric Society (LPS) and the Lebanese Psychological Association (LPA) declared that gay people could not be treated as it was not abnormal, the first time scientific organizations had made such statements in the Arab world.
In a joint press conference with the Lebanese Medical Association for Sexual Health (LebMASH) on Wednesday, the participants noted that the worldwide consensus of their respective professions is that these therapies have no medical or scientific basis.
During the joint press conference, organized by local LGBT-rights group Helem, representatives from the three associations outlined their reasons for the change in policy. “Reparative” or “conversion” therapy, which attempts to change a person’s sexual orientation, has no medical or scientific basis, according to the organizations.
Furthermore, such therapy can be harmful to the patient — delegitimizing the practice in the eyes of the professional associations. “No real psychologist does reparative therapy,” claims Dr. Leyla Akoury-Dirani, a clinical psychologist with the LPA, adding that were a member of the LPA to engage in such practices, the organization would take action: asking the psychologist to stop or banishing them from the association.
However, since the LPA has no legal authority over psychologists — no organization does in Lebanon — they would be unable to take further punitive measures or force the offender to stop. This is a problem in Lebanon, says Akoury-Dirani, because “anyone with a bachelor’s degree [for instance] can act like a psychologist and treat people.”
The LPS, on the other hand, is part of the Lebanese Order of Physicians, a professional syndicate with legal powers. As such, the LPS’s Dr. Georges Karam says that if a doctor is found to be “using a treatment that causes harm” — as ‘reparative’ therapy is now classified — “they will be referred to the ethics committee” for punishment. So for psychiatrists, who are doctors and able to prescribe medication, there now exists an enforcement mechanism to stop these harmful therapies.
Despite the proclamations, homosexuality is far from accepted in Lebanon, with a recent poll finding that only 18 percent of Lebanese thought it should be accepted, down from 21 percent in 2002.
The need for the LPS and LPA statements is clear to Hamed Saleh, a board member at Helem. “We were struggling with people — especially young people — who are being taken to doctors who claim they can change their sexuality using spiritual and dogmatic [techniques] and others twisting science” to support ‘reparative’ therapy, he says.
But Helem’s ultimate interest in the matter is more legal than medical. “Our main focus is on the decriminalization of homosexuality,” says Saleh. Lebanon’s Article 534, which is usually applied to homosexuality, bans ‘unnatural’ acts. If homosexual acts are not unnatural from a scientific viewpoint, as the LPS and LPA statements imply, this “discredits 534” and its application to homosexuality, according to Saleh. “Why are you charging a person, if he’s not doing anything wrong or unnatural, so what is the point of 534?”
A full report on Lebanon’s gay economy can be found in September’s edition, out on Saturday