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For the transgender man identified only as "Jorge", the ordeal began when his girlfriend's mother caught him them together in her home in Ecuador. Shortly afterward, the girlfriend was forcefully abducted and placed in a private rehabilitation hospital offering "behaviour therapy" aimed at changing sexual interest. Several months later, Jorge's parents made arrangements for Jorge to be forcibly placed there as well. In his case, his parents wanted him to give up identifying himself as a man and return to being a traditional Ecuadoran female. Loosely based on the "Twelve-steps" model endorsed by Alcoholics Anonymous, Jorge was kept a prisoner in the clinic and denied any contact with his girlfriend or outside agencies that could help him. He was also forced to dress in enticing female clothing, to read Bible passages each day, and also to endure physical beatings. He was only able to win his release after seven months of this kind of abuse.
Though most of these private hospital focus on treating drug and alcohol addiction, some have quietly begun offering behaviour modification programs aimed at "behaviour disorders", a convenient label that is often extended to homosexuality and transgender cases in a society that still has difficulty accepting sexual minorities. While forced-conversion treatment is illegal under Ecuadoran law, getting police to investigate and lay charges is often difficult. With more than two hundred of these centres, most of which are poorly monitored, investigating every complaint can be expensive, especially in a country that has gutted much of its public health spending.
Over the past fifteen years, the number of addiction clinics has soared and can now be found in every part of the country, often with little real oversight. This has allowed many of these addiction centres to quietly expand their mandate to include what local activists refer to as "dehomosexualization". Since many families, and the clinics themselves, regard homosexuality as an addiction, forcing their gay and lesbian children into these clinics for treatment, even though illegal, seems their only hope for a "cure." Much like the treatment of addiction, these clinics tell their homosexual clients that they will be forcibly held "til you change." Whatever the tactics used, they all focus on "garroterapia" (therapy by the stick), something that has earned them the nickname of "Nazi clinics."
Since few, if any of these centres, operate with qualified professionals, former patients seeking to lay a complaint have few real options. Most of the clinics are run by former substance abusers who graduated from treatment themselves and started their own clinics as a way of making a living. By diversifying the services they offer, including the "treatment" of homosexuality, these clinics hope to make a lucrative living, and many become extremely successful.
While the Ecuadoran government has passed laws banning many of the most abusive practices, including the use of restraints, solitary confinement, beatings, and forced drugging, these practices still continue. Even clinics that have been shut down by the Ministry of Health multiple times are able to keep operating by closing and reopening their doors in the same facility or at a nearby location.
Still, these crackdowns only deal with the places supplying services that parents of gay children want. Educating the public that these kind of forced conversion programs don't work and that homosexuality is something that needs to be accepted rather than changed will likely take much longer.
As for Jorge and all the others caught in this terrible vise, the fear of being forced to undergo "dehomosexualization" remains very real.
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