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One year before she came out to her family as a lesbian (and photographed the conversation), Ecuadorian photographer Paola Paredes heard about local clinics that offered to “cure” LGBTQ people under the guise of treating alcoholism and drug addiction.
Over 200 such clinics exist in her home country (as well as in Asia, the U.S. and elsewhere) and, going through her own journey with her sexuality at the time, their existence affected her in a personal way.
“The thought that I could be locked up in one of these clinics myself lingered in my mind for years,” Paredes said. “Deep down, I knew I had to create something about it.”
These clinics strictly prohibit journalistic access, so Paredes spent months researching their methods and interviewing former patients, eager to make photographs documenting the emotional and physical torture, force-feeding, beatings and “corrective rape” that happen there.
Most of the “patients” at these clinics are LGBTQ people, pregnant teenagers or sex workers admitted against their will by their families. The clinics are also “religious” and run by workers who see LGBTQ people as psychologically and spiritually ill, defiant to society and a very insult to God.
Paredes visited one of these clinics with her parents posing as potential clients, toured the facilities and recorded the conversation with a microphone hidden in her bra. Later, she had friends and actors help her re-enact and photograph the scenes that former patients had described, with herself as the subject enduring the tortures and treatment intended to cure her lesbianism.
Here are some captioned photographs and a video from her project. You can see the full set at her website.
“Under the gaze of the male therapist, the girls are made to dress in short skirts, make-up and heels and to practice walking like ‘real women’. The act is emotionally draining and physically painful.”
“A girl is beaten with a TV cable for failing to pick up her bag from a chair, often other gay teenagers in the centre witness this. A book of anomalies worthy of punishment is read aloud daily to the group.”
“The beverage is worse than a beating. An orderly force-feeds the girl a corrective concoction of liquid for misbehavior. She does not know what she is drinking. The women in the centre share their suspicions that the beverage contains chlorine, bitter coffee and toilet water.”
“Every night the women take different types of pills, often described as vitamins but not labelled. The drugs vary in color; some cause insomnia, others memory loss. The girl suspects, but is not sure, that she was raped after taking one of these pills.”
“If insomnia does not keep the girl awake, it is the sounds of women being tortured. One of the therapists plays loud religious music through the night in an attempt to mask the noise.”
In the last two months, both New Mexico and Nevada have banned so-called “ex-gay” therapy (aka. conversion or reparative therapy). While eight U.S. states have made it illegal for licensed physicians, therapists, or counselors to inflict this thoroughly debunked form of psychological torture, the laws do not apply to licensed therapists or counselors acting as pastors or other religious advisors.