U.S.-funded African clinics offer secret anti-gay ‘conversion therapy’

Staff at U.S.- and internationally funded health clinics in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania offer secret “conversion therapy” that attempts to “cure” homosexuals and turn them straight, undercover reporters found.

A meeting at the Most at Risk Populations clinic at Mulago Hospital in Kampala, Uganda. (Photo courtesy of MARPI)

None of those health facilities publicly advertises “conversion therapy”, but their workers offered it to undercover investigative reporters working for the progressive London-based international news organisation OpenDemocracy.

Undercover reporters were told by some staff at investigated clinics in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania that “being gay is ‘evil’, ‘for whites,’ caused by peer pressure, and a mental health problem, and told to give a gay teenager a sleeping pill to prevent him from masturbating”, OpenDemocracy stated.

Those practices occurred:

  • In Uganda, at the Most at Risk Populations clinic housed within the Mulago national referral hospital, a public health facility.
  • In Tanzania, at a facility in Mwenge, Dar es Salaam, that is run by MSI Reproductive Choices (formerly Marie Stopes International), a UK-based non-governmental organisation.
  • In Kenya, at a clinic in Nairobi in the main office of LVCT Health, an HIV- and AIDS-care organisation.

The report on the investigation stated:

In almost all cases, the ‘treatments’ identified by our undercover reporters consisted of ‘talk therapy’ counselling sessions. In Uganda, one counsellor also recommended “exposure therapy” with “a housemaid [he] can get attracted [to]’’, and told our undercover reporter to give a gay teenager a sleeping pill to prevent him from masturbating.

An anti-HIV program of LVCT Health in Kenya. (Photo courtesy of LVCT Health)

The report noted: ‘Conversion therapy’ is banned in some countries, including Brazil, Ecuador and Malta. President Biden has pledged to end these practices within the US; a proposed ban in the UK was included in the Queen’s speech this year; and Canada’s lower house has just passed a bill banning it, which is now waiting for approval in the Senate

Funding for the organisations whose clinics offer “conversion therapy” included the Global Fund, USAID (the U.S. Agency for International Development), and PEPFAR (the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief.

Funding groups respond to the investigation

A US embassy spokesperson in Uganda, Anthony Kujawa, said: “USAID does not fund or promote anti-LGBTQI ‘conversion therapy’ and will investigate any report that a USAID-funded partner is doing so” The United States is the biggest funder to Uganda’s National HIV/AIDS response.

A spokesperson for MSI Reproductive Choices said: “We have launched an investigation and will take immediate action against anyone found to be involved in this abhorrent practice”.

Sanyu Hajjarah Batte (right) and Moses Mulindwa Kimbugwe, the two elected representatives of Ugandan homosexuals and other key populations to the Global Fund country coordinating board in Uganda. (UhspaUganda photo)

The OpenDemocracy press release about its investigation is reproduced verbatim here:

Revealed: Anti-gay ‘conversion therapy’ at African clinics run by aid-funded groups

Major aid donors have said they will investigate and take action against anti-LGBT ‘conversion therapy’ practices at clinics run by groups they fund, in response to findings from an openDemocracy investigation.

A new undercover investigation by the global news outlet openDemocracy reveals how health facilities in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda have provided, or provided referrals for, controversial anti-gay ‘conversion therapy’ to “quit” same-sex attraction

Undercover reporters were told by some staff at these facilities that being gay is “evil”, “for whites”, caused by peer pressure, and a mental health problem, and told to give a gay teenager a sleeping pill to prevent him from masturbating

Major aid donors mentioned in our investigation include USAID, The Global Fund and the US government programme PEPFAR. Another implicated clinic in Tanzania is run by MSI Reproductive Choices, a UK-based NGO.

During a six-month investigation, our undercover reporters found staff at health centres across Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda who offered help to “quit” same-sex attraction – including at clinics run by aid-funded groups that specifically reach out to LGBT patients.

‘Conversion therapy’ describes a range of practices – from talk therapy to physical ‘treatments – that attempt to change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. It is “ineffective” and “harmful,” according to human rights groups, and has been condemned by more than 60 associations of doctors, psychologists and counsellors worldwide.

In almost all cases, the ‘treatments’ identified by our undercover reporters consisted of ‘talk therapy’ counselling sessions. In Uganda, one counsellor also recommended “exposure therapy” with “a housemaid [he] can get attracted [to]’’, and told our undercover reporter to give a gay teenager a sleeping pill to prevent him from masturbating.

‘Conversion therapy’ is banned in some countries, including Brazil, Ecuador and Malta. President Biden has pledged to end these practices within the US; a proposed ban in the UK was included in the Queen’s speech this year; and Canada’s lower house has just passed a bill banning it, which is now waiting for approval in the senate.

Facilities where our investigation found support for these practices include:

Mulago Hospital in Kampala, Uganda.

Uganda:

An HIV clinic at Kampala’s Mulago Hospital – Uganda’s largest public hospital – run by the Most At Risk Populations Initiative (MARPI), which received a $420,000 USAID grant in 2019, ending in September. (It is unclear if any money went to this specific clinic). The Swiss-based Global Fund, which combats AIDS, TB and malaria, funds both Uganda’s health ministry and a local NGO, which in turn fund the Mulago clinic

Three hospitals in the Uganda Catholic Medical Bureau (UCMB) network. This network received more than $1m from USAID between 2019 and this April (it is unclear whether the specific hospitals identified in our investigation received any of this money)

Tanzania:

A clinic in Mwenge, Dar es Salaam that is run by MSI Reproductive Choices (formerly Marie Stopes International), a UK-based NGO that provides sexual and reproductive healthcare services around the world. In its latest annual report (2019) the organisation reported more than £1.4m in income from UK aid for projects in Tanzania.

Kenya:

A clinic inside the main office in Nairobi of LVCT Health, an HIV and AIDS care organisation, which currently has an $8m grant (which began in 2016 and ends in September) from the US government programme PEPFAR, for work with marginalised communities of sex workers, gay men and trans people in Kenya

In response to this investigation:

Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh, Africa director at the International Commission of Jurists human rights organisation, said that such efforts to ‘cure’ homosexuality are “inherently degrading and discriminatory”.

Yvee Oduor of the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya said that aid donors should “redirect funding […] We already have clinics and health centres run by LGBTQI+ people all over the country. Why not fund these community initiatives?”

A spokesperson for MSI Reproductive Choices said: “We have launched an investigation and will take immediate action against anyone found to be involved in this abhorrent practice”.

A US embassy spokesperson in Uganda, Anthony Kujawa, said: “USAID does not fund or promote anti-LGBTQI ‘conversion therapy’ and will investigate any report that a USAID funded partner is doing so”.

A spokesperson for the Global Fund said that the organisation “takes seriously the matters raised” by our investigation’s findings and that it “will look into them”.

An LVCT Health spokesperson said “we are investigating the matter and will address it conclusively”, including “urgent retraining and sensitisation of our staff”.

PEPFAR (the US President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief), MARPI and UCMB (Uganda Catholic Medical Bureau) did not respond to openDemocracy requests for comment

None of the health facilities investigated publicly advertise ‘conversion therapy’, but workers offered it to undercover reporters on the ground.

Written by Kikonyogo Kivumbi

Kikonyogo Kivumbi is the executive director of the Uganda Health and Science Press Association. Contact him at uhspauganda@gmail.com.

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