What the US government is doing to end LGBTQ conversion therapy

We are just over halfway through LGBT History Month, and the government is stepping up to make history in an incredibly important way. In a report entitled “Ending Conversion Therapy: Supporting and Affirming LGBTQ Youth,” the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration is taking down the concept of conversion therapy — also known as “ex-gay therapy” — highlighting that it’s not only ineffective (and always has been), but entirely antiquated.

“We believe that conversion therapy for young people is not in their best interest, and the facts and the evidence supports that,” White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett told Reuters. “We would support, and have supported, making it illegal for young people.”

Conversion therapy is an effort to “reverse” sexual identities, and over the past century has included various disturbing techniques, from electroconvulsive therapy to hormone therapy that dampens the libido. As an example, gay men in the 1960s (who were often mandated by court to attend therapy) were forced to consume nauseating substances while watching pornography to “train” themselves. In the 1950s, British WWII cryptanalysist Alan Turing was forced to undergo chemical castration as a court-mandated punishment for homosexual acts. Psychologists have relied on talk therapy in recent years — often claiming that LGBTQ identities are a negative result of a dysfunctional family or mental disorder.

“Conversion therapy is a pseudoscience that blames homosexuality on bad parenting,” Wayne Besen, founder of non-profit group Truth Wins Out, told Yahoo. “Specifically, the practice claims — without evidence — that a rift between a child and a same-sex parent can lead to a child rejecting that parent and his or her gender role. At puberty this leads to sexualizing the same sex.”

Several states, including California, New Jersey, Oregon, Illinois, and Washington, D.C. have already banned conversion therapy in recent years; starting in 2012, two of the bans were made in the past six months.

“Conversion therapy perpetuates outdated views of gender roles,” reads the report, “and identities as well as the negative stereotype that being a sexual or gender minority or identifying as LGBTQ is an abnormal aspect of human development. Most importantly, it may put young people at risk of serious harm.” 

The report illustrates three essential points: 1. Various gender and sexual identities are not a form of mental illness or disorders, but rather are a normal reflection of human diversity; 2. There is no research that supports any benefits of conversion therapy; 3. Conversion therapy isn’t helpful but harmful and should under no circumstances be used as a form of treatment for LGBTQ youth. Instead, the report continues, we should be aiming not to “fix” sexual and gender identity, but provide familial and school support as well as information.

“. . . the goal of treatment [should be] the best possible level of psychological functioning, rather than any specific gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation. . . It is important to identify the sources of any distress experienced by sexual and gender minority youth and their families, and work to reduce this distress,” the report continued.

In addition, the report outlined steps to end conversion therapy illustrated in three ways: lowering stigma and discrimination, training health care providers to address diverse identities effectively, and officially ending conversion therapy via legislation. Naturally, it’s essential to rid the country of conversion therapy for good, but the report highlights the importance of addressing mental illnesses LGBTQ youth face that go hand-in-hand with being unaccepted and marginalized in society. We need to make healthier LGBTQ adults, the report emphasized, because currently, there are many more LGBTQ adults who are dealing with mental health issues and higher substance abuse — likely in part because of conversion therapy.

“Conversion therapies or other efforts to change sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression are not effective, reinforce harmful gender stereotypes and are not appropriate mental health treatments,” SAMHSA Special Expert on LGBT Affairs Elliot Kennedy told Reuters.

Ridding the country of the inhumane practice of conversion therapy has been desperately needed since the process began. Hopefully, with the White House serving to educate people on this issue, we’ll see the tide continue to turn toward acceptance, support and equality.


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(Image via Shutterstock.)

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