How 18 Years of Precedent Can Disappear in an Instant: Understanding Brazil’s Recent Decision Allowing Advertisement of Sexual Orientation Conversion Therapy

By: Kellina Yzette Heylek 

Imagine a licensed psychiatrist forcing her patients to vomit at the sight of two males or two women kissing. Imagine a young male being forced to snap an elastic band across his wrist each time he becomes aroused at the thought of his male partner. A recent decision in the federal court in Brazil will allow psychiatrists to again advertise these treatments to non-heterosexual people as a cure.[1]

The Federal Council of Psychology in Brazil previously ruled that it had the ability to censor psychiatrists who were treating patients for sexual orientation conversion therapy.[2] More than 18 years later, Judge Carvalho overruled the Federal Council of Psychology and ruled in favor of the plaintiff, allowing psychiatrists to treat non-heterosexual patients “with sexual reversion therapies without . . . any censorship from the Federal Council of Psychology.”[3] Additionally, as a result of his decision, homosexuality could be considered a disease that treatment could cure.[4] The plaintiff, Rozangela Justino, was banned by the Federal Council of Psychology after trying to change the sexual orientation of her patients through these controversial and discredited therapies.[5] She has claimed the Federal Council of Psychology’s ban was discriminatory against her as a professional, her patients, and her practice.[6] Specifically, “she considers homosexuality a disorder for which she offers therapy and [a] cure” and that homosexuality is “mainly [caused] by abuses and traumas suffered during childhood.”[7] As a result of this decision, Justino can continue advertising her practice as a way for non-heterosexuals to be cured.[8]

To understand the impact this decision has on the LGBT community within Brazil, it is important to be aware of the methods used in these “conversion and reparative therapy sessions.” The methods and “techniques most commonly used include a variety of behavioral, cognitive, psychoanalytic, and other practices that try to change or reduce same-sex attraction.”[9] Physical methods such as aversive conditioning have been used on patients.[10] Additionally, according to the American Psychological Association 2009 Report, techniques include inducing “nausea, vomiting, or paralysis while showing the patient homoerotic images, providing electric shocks, having the individual snap an elastic band around the wrist when aroused by same-sex erotic image or thoughts, using shame to create aversion to same-sex attractions, orgasmic reconditioning, and satiation therapy.”[11]

Treatments that are aimed to change sexual orientation have been in the international spotlight for many years, and the overall consensus is that conversion therapy is ineffective and damages its patients.[12] Professional medical associations in “India, Africa, Lebanon, Thailand,  and [the] Philippines” have denounced the conversion practices.[13] The World Psychiatric Association condemned the practice of sexual orientation conversion therapy as wholly unethical, harmful, and useless.[14] According to the Pan American Health Organization, the alleged treatments are “threats to the right of personal autonomy and to personal integrity.”[15] Not only could the sexual and physical interventions violate the dignity and personal autonomy of these individuals, but it could also violate criminal codes.[16] Also, the misclassification of homosexuality as a disease creates a misunderstanding for individuals’ right to health.[17] Specifically, instead of focusing resources on educating young, sexually active individuals about healthy sexual practices, such as protection, resources are being improperly used towards fruitless, damaging “therapy” sessions. According to the Unite Nations “all people have an equal right to live free from violence,” and that the State has the obligation to ensure all people can enjoy this right regardless of sexual orientation.[18] Conversion therapy sessions to change sexual orientation are considered the violent acts that countries like Brazil must prevent from happening.[19] Tragically, this recent decision written by Judge Carvalho runs contrary to these principles set out by multiple medical professional associations and the United Nations.

Not only does this decision affect the human rights mentioned above, but it also had a colossal impact on the community within Brazil.[20] After the decision was made public, the thriving Rio de Janeiro community was aghast, and many public figures came forward to support the LGBT community. One of Brazil’s most recognized singers posted on her Instagram a photo at one of her performances where two dancers waived large rainbow flags; she captioned the picture and stated “[t]he sick ones are those who believe in this grand absurdity.”[21] Also, the popular pop singer Anitta spoke out against the decision stating “[p]eople [are] dying, hungry, the government [is] killing the country with corruption . . . and the authorities are wasting their time to announce that homosexuality is a sickness.”[22] Many members of the LGBT community have felt that this decision is just another way that the government is stripping away their rights. For example, within weeks of this decision, “one of Porto Alegre’s biggest art museums made the decision to close a queer art exhibition following” threats made by right-wing protesters.[23] Some of the protesters claimed that the exhibit “promoted pedophilia, blasphemy, and bestiality.”[24] The plaintiff in the federal court decision has a similar opinion as those who protested the art exhibit because the plaintiff stated that one of the problems associated with homosexuality is pedophilia.[25]

Along with the recent deterioration in LGBT rights, there is continued violence and crime against this already vulnerable population.[26] According to the New York Times, Brazil has an “epidemic of anti-gay violence” and is ranked as “the world’s deadliest place for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender people.”[27] Jandira Queiroz, a mobilization coordinator for Amnesty International Brazil, stated that violence that is targeted at the LGBT community “has hit crisis levels . . . and is getting worse.”[28] The judge’s decision to allow psychiatrists to advertise treatment to cure homosexuality will only exacerbate the violence and discrimination the LGBT community faces within Brazil. Instead of homosexuality being seen as a natural variation of human sexuality[29], any person who is visiting Brazil will be confronted with the message that homosexuality or non-heterosexual activity can be cured by the treatments that Justino and her colleagues practice.[30] The recent decision seems to completely ignore the scientific evidence that sexual orientation conversion treatments are ineffective and do not alter the sexual orientation of the patients.[31] As such, this decision made by the federal court in Brazil will only aggravate the violence and suffering of the LGBT community at large.

Although this decision runs contrary to the 18 year precedent and contradicts the scientific evidence brought forth by many medical associations, there is a way for the community at large to find some sort of justice. The Federal Council of Psychology, who approved the resolution which banned the advertisement of curing homosexuality, is in the process of appealing the injunction.[32] Many are hoping the physicians who offer the sexual orientation conversion therapies will be banned from advertising homosexuality as a disease with their treatment as the cure.[33]




[2] Graeme Reid, Brazil Judge’s Ruling Sparks Conversion Therapy Controversy, Human Rights Watch (Sept. 20, 2017),; Anger as Brazilian Judge Backs Anti-gay Therapy, BBC News (Sept. 20, 2017), [hereinafter BBC News].

[3] Fernanda Bassette, Justice Allows Treating Homosexuality as a Disease, Veja Brazil (Sept. 20, 2017),

[4] Brazil Ruling that Homosexuality is Disease, Seattle Times (Sept. 19, 2017),

[5] Author of Gay Cure Action Compared Activists to Nazis, Veja Brazil (Sept. 21, 2017),

[6] Id.

[7] Id..; Nathalia Passarinho, Federal Council of Psychology Punishes Psychologits Who Offered Cure For Gays, Globo (Sept. 31, 2009),,,MUL1250754-5598,00-CONSELHO+FEDERAL+DE+PSICOLOGIA+PUNE+PSICOLOGA+QUE+OFERECIA+CURA+PARA+GAYS.html,

[8] Reid, supra note 2.

[9] #BornPerfect: The Facts About Conversion Therapy, National Center for Lesbian Rights, [hereinafter NCLR].

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] See Policy and Position Statements on Conversion Therapy, Human Rights Campaign,

[13] Reid, supra note 2.

[14] Id.

[15] “Cures” For an Illness that Does Not Exist, Pan American Health Organization (2012),

[16] Id.

[17] Id.

[18] Ending Violence and Discrimination Against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex People, United Nations Office of the High Commissioner (September 2015),

[19] Id.

[20] Dom Phillips, Brazilian Judge Approves “Gay Conversion Therapy[,]” Sparking National Outrage, The Guardian (Sept. 19, 2017),

[21] Id.

[22] BBC News, supra note 2.

[23] Ciara Long, Brazil is Accused of Stripping Away LGBT Rights, Public Radio International (Oct. 13, 2017),

[24] Id.

[25] Supra note 5.

[26] Id.

[27] Andrew Jacobs, Brazil is Confronting an Epidemic of Anti-Gay Violence, NY Times (July 5, 2016),

[28] Id.

[29] WPA Position Statement on Gender Identity and Same-Sex Orientation, Attraction, and Behaviours, World Psychiatric Association (March 2016),

[30] Reid, supra note 2.

[31] Supra note 12.

[32] Supra note 4.

[33] Supra note 20.