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Ecuador clinics said to 'cure' homosexuality stir debate

Ecuador legalized unions between same-sex couples in 2008, but this week gay rights organizations filed a complaint that the government is withholding information on the clinics.

By Irene CaselliCorrespondent / February 10, 2012

Quito, Ecuador

"Corrective rape," forced isolation, and physical torture are only some of the methods used to “cure” homosexuality in Ecuador throughout scores of so-called rehabilitation clinics. The clinics, often run under the guise of drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers, have been thrust into the international spotlight, pitting gay rights activists against the government in this tiny Andean nation.

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Homosexuality has been a point of controversy here, and clinics that claim to cure it have sprung up over the years.  But their use and often their fraudulent claims have drawn the ire of rights groups. This week, several organizations filed a complaint against the Health ministry, claiming it has been withholding public information about the centers. The government says it is working on gathering evidence and it cannot divulge information that is not correct or up to date.

Still, for a conservative country where homosexuality was illegal until 1998, Ecuador has made several significant moves toward gay rights under the administration of President Rafael Correa.

In a new Constitution pushed through by President Correa in 2008, civil unions are recognized for same-sex couples. Last December, for the first time, a lesbian was granted her deceased partner's state pension.

These milestones have been hailed by gay rights activists. But these activists also say that institutions are not doing enough to bridge the gap between legislation and reality, and they point to the rehabilitation clinics as a prime example.

According to the testimonies of victims, private clinics, often contacted by troubled family members, have actively tormented their patients in order to change their sexual orientation.

The issue made headlines around the world recently, following a petition posted through the international platform asking Ecuador's Health ministry to shut down such centers.

The petition was drawn up after Paola Concha went public with her story. She was 24 when she was taken by force to a center in the southern outskirts of Quito.

“Three men seized me, handcuffed me, put me in a van, and took me away by force,” says Ms. Concha.

 “I was going through a crisis. I was living away from my family, discovering my real identity,” she says. “My mother was deeply worried and she wanted to help me ... But these people took advantage of her anguish.”


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