Why isn’t conversion therapy banned everywhere? Washington state is finally considering it

There’s a whole stack of research that shows conversion therapy is a bogus science and actually hurts LGBTQ youth, who are already disproportionately more likely to suffer from mental health and substance abuse issues. So why isn’t conversion therapy banned everywhere? It’s appalling that in 2018 there are only a handful of states that have laws against the practice. As of right now, only New Jersey, California, Oregon, New Mexico, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Nevada, Illinois, Vermont, and the District of Columbia have statutes banning the dangerous and fraudulent practice. There are also some municipalities and cities in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, New York, and Arizona that regulate the practice. This week, Washington state joined the list and Maryland is also considering a ban, so there’s movement when it comes to eradicating it.

The Washington legislation is similar to others states in its ban, which is still headed to Governor Jay Inslee desk to be signed. The law states that it would be “unprofessional conduct” for a medical provider to recommend or perform conversion therapy on a kid younger than 18 years old. If a medical provider violates the law, they face punishments like fines, suspension, or license revocation. Luckily, the state’s House also added non-licensed counselors who might be part of a religious organization or church from suggesting conversation therapy, too.

Although it’s hopeful that so many states and municipalities are outlawing the practice, which Lambda Legal calls “torture,” it’s still hard for us to wrap our heads around the fact that a lot of these bans happened just within the past few years, meaning that generations of kids were (and still can be) forced to get “treatment” because of their sexual orientation. This most often only leads to less self acceptance, a cocktail of stigma and shame about their sexual behaviors, increased likelihood of contracting STDs, and in the saddest cases, suicide.

Studies show that youth who go through conversion therapy are 8.9 times more likely to face “suicide ideation,” 5.9 times more likely to be depressed, and three times more likely to use illegal drugs and be at risk for sexually transmitted infections, according to the American Psychological Association.


The APA’s official Task Force found no evidence that the practice worked, especially considering that sexual orientation can’t be classified as a mental disorder, and that religiously affiliated counselors were ill-adept at putting the mental health and well-being of an LGBTQ youth ahead of their own beliefs about human sexuality. That’s a long winded way to say: Conversion therapy isn’t banned everywhere because there are too many religious people in legislative and leadership roles in the country that think they have a right to disguise their homophobia as sound medical practices.

Sexuality is not a choice one makes, it’s not something that can be “reversed,” and it’s definitely not a sickness that needs to be treated.

In 2015, President Obama took a public stance against conversion therapy when 17-year-old Leelah Alcorn threw herself in front of a truck after writing an online suicide note about having to go to religious therapists who wanted to “convert her back to being a boy,” according to the New York Times. At the time, there was a White House petition against the practice, saying:

“We share your concern about its potentially devastating effects on the lives of transgender as well as gay, lesbian, bisexual and queer youth. As part of our dedication to protecting America’s youth, this administration supports efforts to ban the use of conversion therapy for minors."

For all the good Obama did in office when it came to protections for transgender youth and eventually supporting gay marriage, and hiring LGBTQ people in his office, his public position was a little too late and pretty weak when it came to conversion therapy. Obama had a lot going on in 2015, and politics is all about priorities. But a petition? It was a very judicious and anti-climactic move on his administration’s part.


The Department of Health and Human Services wrote at the time, “Conversion therapy is not effective, reinforces harmful gender stereotypes, and is not an appropriate mental health treatment. Beginning this year, SAMHSA will work with partners to broadly disseminate this information to providers and other stakeholders.” Senate Democrats tried to introduce a bill to ban the practice in 2016, and Republicans predictably let it die.

Last year, Senators Corey Booker and Patty Murray, from New Jersey and Washington, respectively, reintroduced the Therapeutic Fraud Prevention Act, which tackles conversion therapy on an economic front. Instead of using science or statistics to convince Democrats, the bill would bring in the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate providers who are lying to their customers about being able to change their sexual orientation, much like you would file a complaint about a weight loss miracle drug or a baby car seat that keeps falling apart.

Not one sponsor of the bill was a Republican, it should be noted. That is probably because the official 2016 GOP platform reads,“We support the right of parents to determine the proper medical treatment and therapy for their minor children.” You should thank Vice President Mike Pence, a longtime enemy of the LGBTQ community, for that one.

Hopefully more states will continue to ban the practice, since at a federal level, it’s almost impossible to convince Republicans (and, let’s face it, probably some Democrats) that LGBTQ lives matter and conversion therapy puts them at risk. It’s been far too long that we’ve let it become a side issue instead of a priority.