Malta bans controversial ‘conversion therapy’ for sexual orientation, gender identity

Long dismissed by scientific research as ineffective at best and dangerous at worst, “conversion therapy” has been banned nationwide in Malta, making it the first country in Europe to bar the practice.

Following the passage of the new law earlier this month, Malta’s government issued a statement touting the ban as a step forward for civil liberties and personal identity. A series of two bills, passed by Malta’s Parliament, makes it illegal to administer conversion practices for anyone of any sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

The Affirmation of Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Gender Expression Bill criminalizes conversion practices that aim to change, repress or eliminate a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Those who violate the law by either practicing or even advertising face fines and jail time.

The bill also clearly states that no sexual orientation or gender identity or expression constitutes a disorder, disease, or shortcoming of any kind.

The second bill, dubbed the Gender Identity, Gender Expression and Sex Characteristics Act, protects non-citizens in Malta who are detained in gender segregated facilities and do not reside in the section that reflects their lived gender. Under the new law, those individuals can have their lived gender recognized via affidavit, and can continue to live in detention according to their gender.

Malta has also lowered the age of individuals who can request a change of gender on official government documents from 18 to 16 years old. Those 16 and older no longer need to file an application in court with approval of their parents or guardians to have their lived gender reflected.

Numerous international health organizations have concluded through decades of research that conversion therapy is ineffective. Further, it can be harmful to the participant, creating a sense of guilt or anxiety about their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Critics of conversion therapy include the World Health Organization, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Medical Association. In the U.S., conversion therapy for minors on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity is banned in a number of major cities and states, including California, New York, New Jersey, and Miami.

Malta’s new laws make it among the most aggressive in barring the practice of conversion therapy across the globe.

Elsewhere internationally, governments have loosened up definitions and restrictions on gender identification and expression. Earlier this year, Canada revised its laws to add an “other” gender option for international travelers who do not identify as male or female.

Currently, at least seven countries offer an option for gender non-conforming passports, including Austria, Germany, India and Pakistan.