Press Release

IACHR Calls on States to Protect the Human Rights of Lesbians from Practices That Attempt to Modify Their Sexual Orientation

April 26, 2021

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Washington, D.C. — To mark International Lesbian Visibility Day, which is observed on April 26, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) calls on States in the region to act in observance of their duty to provide enhanced due diligence by adopting measures to protect the rights to life, health, personal integrity, and other human rights of lesbians and women who perceive themselves as lesbians.

The IACHR has received information on cases in which lesbians from different States in the region have been subjected to acts of violence in an attempt to modify or suppress their sexual orientation or gender expression. According to some lesbians who have been victims of violations of this sort, actions seeking to modify or suppress their sexual orientation or gender expression have included systematic verbal abuse, overcrowding, isolation for long periods, deprivation of food, the obligation to undress and wear specific types of clothing, rape, and the use of electroshock treatment, among other acts that violate human rights. The IACHR noted that according to the information available, these practices are frequently administered by religious institutions and clinics, including psychological and psychiatric services.

The IACHR was also informed that in several countries lesbians are often hospitalized and subjected to treatment of this sort without their consent, including through abductions that are organized by members of the immediate family, as in the case of a lesbian who was committed to a psychiatric facility by her family after she made her sexual orientation public. While at the facility, she was verbally harassed by the clinic staff, physically restrained for two days, and only released when she agreed to participate in sessions and deny her sexual orientation.

It is the IACHR's understanding that lesbians who live in a social environment of prejudice against diverse sexual orientations and gender expressions may feel the need to consent to being subjected to practices of this sort in order to fit within the prevailing heteronormative social norms and avoid acts of discrimination based on their sexual orientation.

The IACHR shares the view of the United Nations Independent Expert on Protection against Violence and Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity that such practices may, in some cases, violate the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment and should therefore be investigated in accordance with the applicable international laws and standards.

Consequently, the IACHR calls on the OAS States to adopt measures to ensure that the governing bodies of all State health services guarantee effective regulation and oversight processes for health professionals who participate in such acts. It also calls again on States to make progress on prohibiting these acts.

The IACHR also recommended that Member States publicize objective, scientific evidence-based information on the negative impact that such attempts at modification have on the lives, personal integrity, and health of lesbians, while promoting a culture of respect for the human rights of women from childhood onward.

The IACHR emphasized that acts of violence against lesbians and bisexual and transsexual women, including attempts to modify or suppress their sexual orientation and gender expression, are experienced as manifestations of structural sexism, historical gender-based inequality, and prejudices that seek to punish or modify sexual orientations, identities, and expressions that do not conform to the binary sex/gender system in force in the region.

On this point, the IACHR calls on States to prevent, investigate, sanction, and provide reparation for violence against lesbians from an intersectional perspective, in accordance with the international obligations that derive from inter-American legal instruments, including the Convention of Belém do Pará, the principles of enhanced due diligence, equality, and nondiscrimination. The IACHR is at States' disposal should they require technical cooperation in this area.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is an autonomous organ of the Organization of American States whose principal functions are to promote the observance and defense of human rights and to serve as an advisory body to the Organization in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 102/21