Iván Tagle was only 15 years old when he was kidnapped and forced to admit, by cruel, inhuman, and degrading torture, that he was “sick”. Jazz Bustamante had turned 21 when she went to a spiritual retreat where they removed her makeup, her suitcase, and forced her to kneel on the ground until she “gave up her homosexuality.”
Both are survivors of ECOSIG, clandestine centers that operate in Mexico without the interference of authorities. Broken down, the term means “Efforts to Correct / Suppress Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity”, and in these centers, LGTBI + people are harassed, threatened, and attacked, resorting to methods as barbaric as exorcisms, electroshocks, or corrective rapes.
ECOSIG promoters are often scam charlatans. Sometimes they are driven by religious leaders convinced that they act under the designs of God. Other times they are committed by far-right organizations, thirsty to strike down any expression that is different from their own. They also occur in Alcoholics Anonymous rehab centers and, unfortunately, they also occur in licensed psychologists’ offices who charge outrageous amounts to eliminate “AMS” or “same-sex attraction.” They all consider homosexuality a disease.
For years, international organizations such as the United Nations have insisted that these so-called “conversion therapies” are not effective and lack any scientific support. However, the cost is very high for those who suffer from them, because they destroy self-esteem and lead to depression, substance abuse, or suicide attempts, among other risks.
Despite this, in Mexico, there is still no law that prohibits these homophobic practices and violations of human rights at the national level. In the Senate, legislators have frozen an initiative to constitute the ECOSIG as a crime. The vote has already been postponed twice to address other issues that they consider to be a priority.
By entity, these practices are only prohibited in Mexico City, in the State of Mexico, and in Baja California Sur.
Infobae México spoke with four survivors of these terror modules to discover, through a series of several chapters, what happens inside the ECOSIG; who pulls their strings, where are they most active, and how they profit from their repulsive practices. And the first to share his story is Iván Tagle, Director General of Yaaj México, a key organization in the defense of LGTBI + rights in Mexico, engineer and external consultant for the United Nations.
The screaming began immediately. Forcibly and with insults they were forced to get on buses. Ivan did not understand violence; He did not know what was happening or why so many people were there.
“They began to treat us very badly, they threatened us and put us on a bus where all the windows were closed. I was very scared because I did not know what was happening. They put us on these buses, all the time with screaming and hate. The journey lasted about two hours, two and a half hours, they took us far outside the city,” Iván recalled.
Thus began his story, 17 years ago. Those were the first minutes of an experience that emotionally destroyed him for far too long. The Saint Augustine Support Group had invited him to join a spiritual retreat dedicated to personal growth and enrichment. They would leave Mexico City to spend a few days in the field. However, nothing happened as he had been told. First, they insulted them and forced them to board the three buses and when they reached their destination, they saw that they were in the middle of a desert area.
“They were like small ruins, there were some cabins … The roof was made of metal … as if they were makeshift barracks. The chairs were made of plastic and the planks were made of wood. The only light that was there were candles,” he explained.
Then, Ivan was only 15 years old. Deep down, he sensed why he was there … But at that age he hadn’t come out of the closet, he hadn’t talked to anyone about his sexual orientation.
His suspicions were soon confirmed. As they got off the trucks, the organizers divided them according to their “diseases.” There was a group of alcoholics, another of drug addicts, and he had was sorted into the homosexual group.
“They emphasized to us that we had a ‘character flaw’: homosexuality. And they said, ‘It’s a disease comparable to alcoholism and drug addiction, so we have a whole program for you. They said we could run if we wanted, but the coyotes would get us. ‘I mean, those kinds of threats. And you, a 15-year-old boy, turned out into the middle of nowhere in a desert and … where do you run? ”.
He does not know exactly how long they kept him in the cabin, but he estimates that it was three to four days. During that time, he was forbidden to walk, sleep and rest.
“You are sitting in a chair and every time you go to lean on the table to sleep there is a hit. People lift you up. They don’t let you sleep. No matter how much you decide to close your eyes, there is always someone who is in charge of waking you up.”
In addition, they used other cruel methods to torture him. They did not feed him or let him drink water. From time to time, men and women who shared their own stories came into the cabin: they said that they had been homosexuals in the past and that their old LGTBI + life had led them to suffer from venereal diseases, addictions, and social marginalization.
“We couldn’t eat, they didn’t let us sleep, they didn’t give us water to drink. The whole time we were sitting in a row. People were there taking care of us, reading the bible, and we were constantly listening to the testimonies of the people who had already been cured. And these stories were quite strong, quite crude, a person who had AIDS came and said they were going to die. And I thought, ‘I do not want to get there.”
After several days, they allowed him to close his eyes, but not to sleep but to perform what they call “regression therapy”, a practice that is often repeated in ECOSIGs and that aims to search the memory of the person with SMA to find the childhood trauma that led them to develop homosexuality.
“They did what they call regressions to me. For them, all LGBTI people at some point had to experience a sexual disorder: someone had to rape you to make you gay,” explains Iván. “When you deprive a person of their freedom and don’t let them sleep, and don’t let them drink water, their psyche begins to be malleable. Try not to sleep for three days and close your eyes for 10 minutes, you go anywhere. Then, the person begins to induce memories, and to induce rhetoric so that you accept that someone did something to you, that you recognize it because as soon as you recognize that you are sick, you will be cured ”.
He was never raped as a child, he was not attacked in his childhood, nor was he abused or mistreated. But the members of the San Agustín Support Group made him believe that he was, and he had to bear that fear.
“That they put the idea that you are like that at 15 years old because someone had to do something to you, for me it was the easiest way to justify that [being homosexual] was someone else’s responsibility. And that I couldn’t remember it because it was a trauma from my past,” says the now activist.
In 1990, the World Health Organization (WHO) removed homosexuality from the list of mental illnesses and recently also removed transsexuality from this classification. However, in Mexico, there are still many religious groups – Catholics or evangelists -, right-wing extremists and even psychologists who insist that it is a pathology that must be eradicated.
The people behind the ECOSIG that Iván went through were not mental health professionals: “They were everything; there were trades, engineers, doctors, or who simply did not have any study but was there doing that,” he explained.
Although at first, they told him that the group was not linked to any religion, all the time there were Bibles, they prayed and threatened them with going to hell if they did not ask God for forgiveness. For attending the retreat, they charged a contribution that could not be less than 200 Mexican pesos (USD 9.67). When asked how he ended up in those days or who took him there, Iván is silent: “Because of a matter of situations.” He does not want to reveal it and it is understandable.
During the days he spent in the barrack, Iván did nothing to defend himself. He was starving, but did not ask for food; he was thirsty but did not demand water. Fear and guilt paralyzed him. He even convinced himself that he deserved the treatment.
“I didn’t say anything because I felt it like a punishment, you know? That I deserved this for who I was and that these people were going to help me. I said nothing. I just kept quiet. For me it was like … I was scared to death. It was like … ‘it’s part of what I have to live to overcome this,'” Iván shared with great sadness.
And it is that at that moment he wanted to “heal”; or at least try. This was mainly influenced by his lack of information. He had grown up in a “traditional Mexican” family attached to religious values and, around him, he did not have any LGTBI + friend who could serve as a reference, who would tell him: ‘don’t worry, it’s okay to be who you are’. Added to this was the coercion of a society that still stigmatizes sexual diversity.
“The only information I had was that I was going to die of AIDS, that it was a disgrace for the family, that I was very sick, that I was going to go to hell for who I was. So, hence the urge to say, ‘I don’t want to be like that.’ Who in their right mind wants to choose a life where you are discriminated against, where you are beaten, where you have to flee your home, where you cannot find a job because of who you are? Nobody chooses a life like that! “
For three days they fed him these false and distorted ideas. He had not eaten, had not drunk, had not slept … But the solution was simple: it would all end if he apologized to God and acknowledged that he was ill.
“The only time they let you eat, sleep or drink water is when you accept that you are sick. When you ask God for forgiveness and do everything possible to get out of there, everything changes. They slapped me twice, they told me I was sick, and then they showed me a lot of love. You can sleep now, they hug me … “.
However, the ECOSIG did not end there. From that moment on, the San Agustín Support Group assigned Iván a coach, an advisor who would accompany him in “the relapses of his illness.” He had never said out loud that he was gay; so these people seized his secret until it was completely annulled.
“The problem is that these things do work. They work in the way that they depersonalize you. You start to win and buy all those ideas and you don’t even question or reflect on them. You just run them. I really began to accept the idea that I was sick and that I had to do everything possible not to go to hell and to be a correct person in this society and that my parents loved me. Because I want to be loved ”.
In the following years, under the mask of supposed concern and questionable affection, his advisor forced him to share his most intimate erotic thoughts, his “moral weaknesses,” his ungodly feelings towards men he was attracted to.
Like a torturer doing his job well, his coach made him feel ashamed of himself, guilt, and often disgusted. When the weakness of spirit appeared, he punished it. And so on, until Ivan couldn’t take it anymore. He ran away from home, began to sleep on the street, and courageously became what he is today, one of the main voices in the country against the ECOSIG, founder and director of the Yaaj Mexico association and counselor of the United Nations on LGTBI + issues.
Because as he himself explains, “sexuality is a river that, no matter how much you put a big dam, always finds its course.”
Originally published on infobae.com