No such public relations spin in Ecuador.
On Sunday, acknowledging that the International Day Against Homophobia had been observed the day before, El Universo decided to turn its eye on a number of unauthorized gay "treatment" centers with two searing articles (In the photo above Evangelical Pastor Timoteo Zárate preaches to two youth who are "interned at the New Life Center in Huaqillas for being gay" according to one of the articles).
In "Prayer and seclusion to 'cure' gays" reporters Maria Alejandra Torres and Marjorie Ortiz expose a network of 140 rehab centers that promise to cure homosexuality despite not being authorized to offer such treatments (even if eighty of them are said to be officially certified as drug abuse and alcoholism rehabilitation centers).
They're not authorized to "treat" homosexuality, the reporters say, because no medical authority in the country recognizes such treatments, because some states such as Guayas actually bans such "therapies" and because homosexuality is not considered to be an illness. much less a crime ever since Ecuador struck down sodomy statutes ten years ago.
“There is no authorization for the functioning of clinics that correct these sexual behaviors because they are not an illness, but instead an option" says Patricia Castro, coordinator of the Sanitary Authority of the Health Department of Guayas, "It's a lie, a local sham, this implies that the professionals aren't serious."
El Universal interviews Chiqui (left), a 22 year old transgender woman who says she knew she was a girl as far back as 6 years of age. She tells the paper:
"My father paid $1,000 to have them lock me up in a clinic because he wanted me to change. Four men practically kidnapped me on the street. I wore my hair long and, since I had already taken hormones, my breasts had grown. They clipped my hair. Myself and another three homosexuals. They would lock us up in rooms of less than a meter wide. So small that we had to stand on our feet, in the dark, with flies."
The place where she was taken was God's Paradise, a drug and alcohol rehab center, led by Jorge Flor who some residents call "My pastor."
"When I tried to escape," says Chiqui, "they hit me until they broke my nose. They'd ask if I was a man or a woman, they'd take our pants down, they'd throw water between our legs and would put live cables to shock us with electricity."
Flor denies all charges and says there are no homosexuals at God's Paradise. "Look," he told the reporters as he pointed at a group of men praying outside the center in a yard, "They are all men."
Jorge, who didn't give his last name and is a member of a local LGBT rights organization, said he had experienced similar experiences:
"They gave me hormones that changed my voice. They would put on videos with men and, if we happened to get an erection, they would hit us. They would wake us up at 5:30 and, if we had not committed an infraction, they would give us breakfast. They applied electric shocks to our private parts and on our hands."
Jorge also said that the center was led by men who called themselves pastors and claimed that they would touch "patients" to see if they would become aroused, and if not, declare then "cured."
Both said that they'd been taken to the center against their will but the paper also interviewed a young lesbian who said that she had registered at one of these centers willingly hoping that is she became straight her parents might stop suffering over her lesbianism. In her case, the 20 year old went to the Youth Home led by Dr. Eugenia Macias.
"Even though I never tried to escape, they made me take three pills that would make me sleep all day long, even though my mates would tell me that I was awake, but I almost don't remember a thing. On the fifth day I woke up at the Liberty Clinic, I don't know how I was taken there. There, those who misbehaved were locked up in a room without a mattress. My mom would send me make up and dresses. They charged $200 a month."
Macias initially denied the charges and said that the Youth Home is only for people with mental problems but eventually admitted that there was a period in which some people might have come from her late husband's drug rehab clinic after he passed away. She said that they were sent elsewhere.
Others are upfront about their desire to change the gays, even if their efforts are not recognized by Ecuadorian authorities, and in their case they embrace the nicer, gentler public relations angle.
Nelson Quintero who leads a (big surprise!) evangelical center says “No cure is offered, just wellness. The assistance must be spiritual and professional, but they should not be locked up."
El Universo notes that even though some Catholic denominations also support these therapies (including the US-based Courage organization which claims they have a site in Ecuador), most of the ones pushing for them in Ecuador happen to be evangelical ministries. Evangelical leaders include Assemblymember Balerico Estacio who (big shock!) was among those who sought to eliminate constitutional protections for gays and lesbians back in March.
"They are demons that invade the body," he says in defense of the centers, "The natural self does not understand them, even if its psychological. Nothing can be done if it's not from God's spirit."
In the second article ("'Cured' but still without a partner") 50 year old Nelson Ballesteros (right) identifies as both a pastor and an ex-gay who found it hard to behave as a man after years of dressing up like a woman.
Ballesteros says that he began to get closer to God twenty-six years ago but has faced "relapses." He swears that he hasn't had sexual relations with men since 2001, nor - as a matter of fact - with women.
"I haven't been decisive, but I don't reject women," he says.
45 year old Luis, only identified by his first name, shares a photograph of himself dressed as a woman 23 years ago but says that he was saved by God on January 20th of 2000 . He is now a married evangelical preacher with two kids.
His story, El Universo says, has been used by many of these ex-gay organization to spread the word throughout Latin America that gayness can be cured.
At the New Life center, gay "clients" have to stay for at least a year. Timoteo Zárate, who identifies as ex-gay, says that gays are separated from drug addicts and admits that he oversees two interns who were fifteen and twenty-one years of age when they arrived atthe center (see photo above).
Kudos to El Universo for exposing such shameful practices. Let's hope it leads to meaningful reform.
- Ex-Gay Torture Chambers In Ecuador (Box Turtle Bulletin).
- Ex-gay torture chambers in Ecuador and spiritual abuse (Crossing the T)