More than 40 years after the American Psychiatric Association (APA) removed homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses in 1973, there's still a need for protective LGBT legislation to be passed. It's 2018, and lawmakers across the country are working this season to ban so-called "conversion therapy" programs, which attempt to convert individuals to heterosexuality. These states are working to ban gay conversion therapy, and here's what you need to know about the move.
Nearly 50 different bills in 24 states taking aim at conversion therapy have been proposed so far this year, according to USA Today, focusing on making it illegal for minors to be subjected to the treatment at the request of parents or religious institutions. The practice has been discredited by dozens of medical associations and child-welfare institutions because it inherently assumes that any non-heterosexual identity is an ailment to be cured. The practice also poses risks to vulnerable youth such as such as depression, decreased self-esteem, substance abuse, homelessness, and even suicidal behavior, per the LGBT advocacy group Human Rights Campaign (HRC). The APA ultimately denounced conversion therapy in 2000, per archived board minutes.
“I don’t even like the term because it legitimizes it as an actual therapy when it isn’t,” Scott Leibowitz, medical director of behavioral health at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, told USA Today. “It is more of an effort or intervention done within the health care setting specifically designed to try to change or alter someone’s gender identity or sexual orientation under the notion that it is pathological.”
HRC claims that the practice is also fundamentally ineffective, citing a report from a 2007 task force of the American Psychological Association. The report found that "results of scientifically valid research indicate that it is unlikely that individuals will be able to reduce same-sex attractions," per HRC.
Still, as of April 2018, many states do not have protective laws preventing medical professionals from attempting to perform conversion therapy, according to HRC. The organization released a letter signed by national advocacy groups and organizations on Tuesday, April 17, urging lawmakers to continue condemning conversion therapy.
“These major child welfare organizations are speaking out at a critically important moment as legislative proposals to protect LGBTQ youth from so-called conversion therapy are pending in state legislatures across the country,” HRC Counsel Xavier Persad said in the letter. “No child should be subjected to this dangerous and discredited practice that amounts to nothing less than child abuse. Lawmakers from Maine to Hawaii must continue to move these crucially important protections forward before the end of session.”
Regulations protecting youth from conversion therapy are already on the books in Connecticut, California, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Illinois, Vermont, New York, New Mexico, Rhode Island, and Washington D.C., according to HRC. On March 28, Washington state became the eleventh state to pass legislation to ban conversion therapy, per USA Today, and the push shows no signs of slowing down. Other bills are in various stages across the country, including in Maryland, New Hampshire, Colorado, and Maine.
However, the Williams Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Law estimated in a January report that 20,000 minors are still susceptible to gay conversion therapy in states that do not have any legal protections.
Conversion therapy has reportedly existed for more than a century, per the Williams Institute, and has been known to involve some gruesome tactics. Combining homoerotic imagery with induced nausea, vomiting, paralysis, or shock therapy is just one documented tactic known as "aversion therapy." In general, gay conversion in the U.S. reportedly includes versions of talk therapy or weekend retreats at camps which have been the subject of various films and documentaries in recent years. The tactics used for conversion therapy can differ depending on where you are in the world, as NowThis reported in 2016. For example, in Johannesburg, South Africa, conversion camps are known to subject boys to strenuous manual labor "for the purpose of instilling masculinity."
As with many (if not all) LGBT-positive political movements, there is backlash. Opponents of the bills say they believe banning gay conversion therapy outright would infringe on people's freedom to practice religion.
National Review columnist David French wrote in an op-ed Tuesday, April 17, that California's draft of the bill is an attack on Christian ethics. The state's bill asserts that "being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender is part of the natural spectrum of human identity and is not a disease, disorder, or illness."
"This is extraordinarily radical," French wrote of the bill, saying that sex was reserved for marriage between a man and a woman. "The Christian response to gender dysphoria is compassion and treatment, not indulgence and surgical mutilation."
California's bill would also classify conversion therapy as fraud, as "claims that sexual orientation change efforts are effective in changing an individual’s sexual orientation, may constitute unlawful, unfair, or fraudulent business practices under state consumer protection laws."
It's unclear if this latest legislative push will prove successful even with such overwhelming evidence that gay conversion therapy is dodgy at best and terribly harmful at worst — but one can hope. And with almost half the country apparently agreeing that this practice should be a thing of the past, well, it looks like our hopes may be rewarded.