‘Protected’ religious LGBT people forced into marriage as conversion therapy

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A charedi (ultra-Orthodox) wedding ceremony in Israel. (Getty / Salih Zeki Fazlioglu / Anadolu Agency)

Forced marriage as conversion therapy has been around for centuries for LGBT + people, and it still happens today, especially among religious communities.

Eve Sacks is a Chartered Accountant, Co-Chair of the Trustees of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance UK and a member of the Board of Directors of Nahamu, an organization that fights against religious extremism within the Jewish community.

While conducting research for a paper On forced marriage in Charedi (also known as ultra-Orthodox) Jewish communities with Nahamu founder Yehudis Fletcher, Sacks noticed a disturbing trend.

She said RoseNews that although forced marriage can be physically threatened, it can also be forced by social coercion.

“By that we mean that the person willingly accepts it at that time, and they are giving the normal legal definition of consent, but it is because of the circumstances of their life at that time that they have agreed.” , she said. “And we don’t think that’s full consent.”

Sacks continued, “A disproportionate number of people we spoke to who suffered were LGBT +, and they almost all said they were going to be healed if they got married.”

Young people from Charedi communities are so “protected” that they have no language to describe queer identity

Charedi communities practice the shidduch system of arranged marriage, and Fletcher and Sacks were careful to differentiate forced marriage from arranged marriage in their article, noting that the latter “brought joy, satisfaction and belonging to many Jewish couples and enriched their life ” .

Children from Charedi communities are raised in entirely unisex environments, often with no access to the internet, modern media, or sex education, and some of this makes it difficult to identify forced marriage as conversion therapy in these communities. communities is that young people may not have the language to even describe their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Sacks explained, “Education is completely separate for boys and girls from the age of three, and they are likely, after puberty, to have no contact with family, friends or cousins. opposite sex.

“So the only children of the opposite sex they’ll talk to are their own siblings.

“They don’t go to regular schools, they go to Charedi schools, so the only children they will come into contact with are other Charedi children.

“In these schools, everything that poses a problem with their way of thinking is suppressed. “

This not only includes LGBT + issues, she said, but also “carbon dating because it indicates the age of the world, reproduction and evolution, plate tectonics because again that indicates the age of the world, in English literature romance would be redacted ”.

“So the kids are growing up, they don’t have access to TV or social media, so their only point of reference for marriage is these arranged marriages,” Sacks added.

It’s hard for people to understand, she said, the “ridiculous proposition” that an 18-year-old would “agree to marry someone he once met for half an hour,” but “they do not see other alternatives in childhood”. , this is how marriage works in their community ”.

This “sheltered” education of course also extends to the language surrounding LGBT + identity.

Undergoing forced marriage as conversion therapy leaves LGBT + youth desperate and trapped

“One of the people who came to us, she didn’t have a tongue to [her sexual orientation] at all, ”Sacks continued.

“She got engaged to this young man, then the week before the wedding there was one last lesson and sex was described to her.

“She was told she would lie on her back and the man would lie on top of her, and there was just something about her that she knew she couldn’t do that.”

“She had no words or language to say ‘lesbian’ or anything like that.”

The woman, Sacks said, ran away and even planned to kill herself, but luckily she was picked up by someone who was able to help her.

Others are told that their feelings are only there because they were brought up in a unisex environment, and that their “bad inclinations will pass” once they are married.

“It’s a form of conversion therapy,” Sacks said. “When a person has promised a cure, it is just bad. May the cure come from prayer, let the cure come from forced marriage, let the cure come from other horrible therapies.

One of the differences between forced marriage and other forms of conversion therapy is its “permanence”: after the traumatic experience of marriage, staying married is always expected.

Sacks said: “One person we spoke to was someone who was transgender, said every time his wife had another baby, parents were like, ‘Oh, I’m so happy for this. baby. Because now you’re more trapped in it.

“Even if it’s difficult to leave with a child, it is harder to leave with two, and it is harder to leave with three.

UK conversion therapy ban must explicitly include forced marriage

As the UK struggles to ban conversion therapy, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said last month that a ban on the horrific practice would not apply to adults seeking “pastoral support” from religious institutions.

“I have huge concerns about any sort of religious exclusion,” Sacks said.

“You might as well not care about the ban at all… Because who else is doing it besides religious groups?” “

She said she wanted forced marriage to be included in a ban on conversion therapy, but also for conversion to be mentioned in forced marriage legislation, either in legislation or in guidance.

Although Sacks’ expertise is found in Jewish communities, it is clear that the use of forced marriage as conversion therapy is a practice used in other faith groups.

“It’s a problem in other faith groups, with very, very similar dynamics,” she said.

“It’s not just a Jewish question, it’s a larger point on conversion therapy that I’m just surprised no one talks about.”

She said she had heard of forced marriage as conversion therapy in Muslim and Christian communities, “even more so in fundamentalist Christian communities like Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses.”

“If you grew up in these communities, it’s all just seen as so horrible and shameful that you cling to something that might heal you… I don’t think that’s unique to the Jewish community at all.


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