Illegal "Conversion Centers" Still Flourishing in Ecuador

It was four years ago that I first learned about the private ‘clinics’ that claim to cure homosexuality in Ecuador. My first thought was that it could be me held there and told that, as a gay woman, I needed to change. Two years later, I came out to my family and was accepted by them. In my country, many young women and men are not so fortunate.

In describing what motivated her to launch her photography series, "Until You Change,"  Ecuadoran photojournalist Paola Paredes had a very personal reason for sharing the plight of the women she was photographing.  Despite being technically illegal, there are around two hundred facilities that claim to "cure" homosexual men and women.   Usually masquerading themselves as drug and alcohol programs, the patients in these clinics are often involuntarily committed by family members in a country that continues to stigmatize same-sex relationships.    Whether or not they are genuinely gay, women held in these clinics are often subjected to horrendous abuse, whether it takes the form of forced use of makeup, short skirts, or high heels to "reinforce their femininity" or physical abuse and "corrective" rape.  

To raise awareness of an on-going human rights issue that continues to resist mainstream media in Ecuador, I recreated scenes form these ‘clinics’ based upon victim testimony," Paredes states in her website. "Being gay and from Ecuador, I chose myself as the protagonist of the images. I incorporated my own emotions and experiences with theatrical methods to explore the abuse of women in these institutions, staging a series of images based on the testimony of the women who I interviewed."  

While government crackdowns have led to the closing of some of these clinics in recent years, others have managed to stay open and solicit new customers with the help of local evangelical movements.   As Paola Paredes has shown in her photography series and the Vimeo video she has recently uploaded, the human rights abuses taking place at these clinics will only stop when victims agree to come forward and share their experiences.  

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