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:
- 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)
- 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.
- 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, MARPI and UCMB did not respond to openDemocracy requests for comment
Notes to editors:
- openDemocracy is a global news outlet based in London, UK, with reporters and editors internationally including in East Africa
- Once live, our investigation will be online at:
- None of the health facilities investigated publicly advertise ‘conversion therapy’, but workers offered it to undercover reporters on the ground
- Prior to publication, openDemocracy can share with interested journalists more details from any of the above-mentioned countries