For LGBTQ Immigrants, State Anti-Discrimination Laws are Personal

Daniela Simba suffered conversion therapies in her native Ecuador, and has fought against them in her New York home. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

When Daniela Simba was 17 years old, her father took her to a psychiatrist in her native Ambato, in Ecuador’s Andean central valley. During two sessions, the youth, who was born male and at the time identified as a gay man, was instructed about a conversion procedure that would make her “come back to what she should be.” Simba and her dad strongly refused the therapy, and left the clinic.

Until November 1997, homosexuality was considered a crime in Ecuador, which is why Simba’s father, in trying to help his kid, thought of what seemed to be the only viable option: A “conversion therapy” in which, according to Ecuadorean activists, patients are raped and battered, as well as administered testosterone treatments that end up creating medical problems later in life.

“I know my dad did that because he didn’t know what was going on with me, because I identified as a gay kid but didn’t really conform to that world either,” explained Simba, who soon afterwards decided to move to New York where, she says, “things seemed to be a bit more advanced.”

However, during college, when she started her transition towards a trans woman, Simba got involved in community movements related to transgender rights and found that the same situation she had experienced in her native country was happening in states like New York, her new home.

Simba, who is now a community leader, says that other transgender New Yorkers “have been the biggest victims of psychological experiments that are the product of the controversial conversion therapies,” which have traditionally stemmed from “religious bigotry and lack of information at home.” (…)

Although conversion therapy remains legal in much of the country, for Simba 2019 has started promisingly in New York, as this Tuesday state legislation was approved banning mental health professionals from using conversion therapy on minors, as was the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA).

“It’s really good news, especially because it protects youths in ages when parents can still make decisions,” said Simba. “Even though we are in a very progressive city and state, there is still a lot to do when it comes to trans people rights,” added the activist, who works as coordinator of health services for trans people in the areas of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and Jackson Heights, Queens.

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