Anti-”Conversion Therapy” Bill Passes in the CA State Senate

In California, an unprecedented bill that will ban mental-health professionals from trying to change the sexual orientation of trans*, gay, lesbian and bisexual minors in what is called “conversion” or “reparative therapy” has passed through the Senate. It’s Senate bill 1172, and it’s likely making its way to the state Assembly this week.

The LGBTQ community already faces a great deal of cultural and social stigma on a daily basis. It’s frightening that medical professionals, people we trust with our own mental and physical health, are legally able to administer therapy that questions the validity of our sexual orientations and positions us as intrinsically “in need of mental help” — and it’s especially worrisome that this kind of therapy can be administered to minors. Homosexuality was removed from the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders about 40 years ago, and continuing to treat it as a disorder goes against the consensus of the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association and the American Counseling Association.

State Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) says gay “conversion” therapy is based on “junk science.” (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press / August 24, 2012) via LATimes.com

California is taking the first steps toward banning conversion therapy, at least within the state. Senate bill 1172 was set into motion by Senator Ted W. Lieu, and makes a concerted effort to protect LGBTQ youth from the devastating effects of conversion therapy. According to a publication released by the American Psychological Association,

The potential risks of reparative therapy are great, including depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior, since therapist alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self-hatred already experienced by the patient.

Not only does conversion therapy questionably treat homosexuality as a mental illness, but the practice itself has no solid grounding in research or official procedure. Lara Embry, a clinical psychologist and partner of actress Jane Lynch, put it best in an op-ed published in the LA Times:

Conversion therapy has no reputable research to support its use, no well-designed studies demonstrating its efficacy and no research-based protocols for administering it. Without these tools, it is difficult to even get a sense of what these therapists are doing to children. Techniques discussed publicly include the use of shame, verbal abuse, exposure to pornography and even aversion training with electric shock and nausea-inducing drugs. Not only can these techniques cause significant harm, their stated goal — changing a gay kid into a straight kid — cannot be achieved.

The University of California Davis’s psychology department website hosts a comprehensive discussion of conversion therapy and how its “successes” have been reported. According to Dr. Gregory Herek, a psychology professor at UCD, many of the claims of “success” related to conversion therapies have been published online at non-competitive, low-prestige publications rather than at peer-reviewed journals. And while some studies report high rates of success (like Dr. Robert Spitzer’s 2003 paper presented at the American Psychological Association’s annual convention, where he found that 66% of 143 men and 44% of 57 women “achieved ‘good heterosexual functioning’” after conversion therapy), the pool of participants can be skewed — Spitzer’s study had recruited his participants from “‘ex-gay’ and anti-gay organizations” and “two thirds were referred … by so-called ‘ex-gay ministries.’” Ultimately, Spitzer didn’t stand behind his own study: “He was quoted in the New York Times as saying that, despite the findings from his study, the number of homosexuals who could successfully become heterosexual was likely to be ‘pretty low.’” This past May, Spitzer even apologized for supporting conversion therapy in the New York Times.

Compare this with a 2002 APA paper by Dr. Ariel Shidlo and Dr. Michael Schroeder. According to Dr. Herek, whose findings were very different, 88% of 202 gay individuals “reported that efforts to change their sexual orientation had failed” and 3% or 6 people claimed they had “achieved what the researchers considered a heterosexual shift.” The individuals were “recruited through the Internet and direct mailings to groups advocating conversion therapy,” and according to the Dr. Herek, “Drs. Shidlo and Schroeder also reported that many respondents were harmed by the attempt to change.”

Jane Lynch (left) and Dr. Lara Embry (right). via zimbio.com

The fact is, these therapies just don’t work and there is no hard evidence to suggest that they should. If you spend weeks and months in conversion therapy only to find that it hasn’t “fixed” anything, what happens next? Conversion therapy “frame[s] the inability to change one’s sexual orientation as a personal and moral failure,” according to the APA’s publication, “Just the Facts about Sexual Orientation & Youth.” Conversion therapy has also “led, in some cases, to patients later committing suicide,” Senator Lieu said after the assembly vote, according to the Huffington Post.

The bill is one of the government’s many first steps toward defending the mental and physical health of LGBTQ youth. Courts and politicians are starting to become more aware that the mental health of America’s children includes the mental health of LGBTQ teens and children. As Embry wrote in her op-ed, “As long as there continues to be a market for these fraudulent treatments, they will be offered, and children will be harmed — unless the law is changed and parents are better educated about how to cope with a child who may be gay or gender nonconforming … As a society we need to step up and help protect these families from being harmed by therapists who claim to be experts but are really just peddling hate.”

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Whitney is a lover of food, books, comic books and journals made for left-handed people. She is a Ph.D. student at Northwestern University, where she studies video games and new media. She is also a graphic designer, writer and editor who has worked for places like Opium Magazine, Literary Death Match, Publishers Weekly and The Feminist Press. Check out her blog at whitneypow.com and follow her on Twitter @whitneypow.

Whitney has written 51 articles for us.

11 Comments

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    Oh, so repairitive therapy against transgender people isn’t covered? Why am I not surprised?

    This is 2006 ENDA all over again. Good thing the Republican-controlled house will never let it become law.

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      Trans* people are actually covered in the bill —

      “California has a compelling interest in protecting the physical and psychological well-being of minors, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth, and in protecting its minors against exposure to serious harms caused by sexual orientation change efforts.”

      http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=201120120SB1172

      Thank you for bringing this up! Amending the first paragraph.

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        I’m guessing that when Athena says “reparative therapy against transgender people”, she’s not talking about “straight conversion” therapy but about “cis conversion” therapy, which is different and not covered by this bill.

        I don’t really understand the paragraph you quoted in that being trans has nothing to do with being gay/bi and isn’t mutually exclusive with it, so I don’t know what they meant by that. I guess it’s just another case of people throwing the T along with the LGB because they’re used to mashing them up together, even though the subject at hand doesn’t actually concern trans people or address their needs and the problems they face at all.

        But still, I don’t agree with Athena that it’s a “good thing” a bill protecting gay kids wouldn’t pass because it doesn’t also protect trans kids. Saying that it is good some children get hurt because other children get hurt too is really wrong and fucked up.

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          Hello there. I’m Shaun from Equality California (EQCA), one of the original sponsors of California Senate Bill 1172. I would like to clarify that this bill does in fact cover gender identity and gender expression.

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      Happy to correct you on a couple of points, Athena.

      First off, gender expression is covered. “(b) (1) “Sexual orientation change efforts” means any practices by mental health providers that seek to change an individual’s sexual orientation. This includes efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions, or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same sex.”

      This is the same basis that precludes discrimination in employment against trans folks under the most recent NLRB decisions.

      The second point is that this is a California law, and has passed the legislature in its final form.

      If you have any more questions, feel free to ask.

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    So much American politics.
    I know this is an American site but in my country the laws are harsher.
    Adoption? fostering? Marriage? Rights of Partner? …Far off dreams!
    There are so many other countries where it is fatal to be gay.. where you live in constant fear.
    I feel like this should be highlighted more.

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    This is great news! I really hope this passes into law. Although, even if it does, some parents will ship their kids out of state to be psychologically broken. So the fight is not over. However, it is a positive sign that this law might pass. Hopefully this will be a law that can be reproduced in other states and finally as Federal law. “Conversion therapy” is institutionalized abuse in my opinion and if H.R. 3126 would have passed, many of these programs that abuse (convert) adolescents would cease to operate without regulation. I really hope we can still push for a federal law which would supercede all state laws and disallow institutionalized child abuse in private residential placement. At age 14 I spent 21 months in drug treatment for a drug addiction I never had. The conversion or “brainwashing” I experienced was extremely damaging psychologically and it lasts a lifetime.

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    I hope California and then the rest of the world ban repartative “therapy for minors. When parents spend their money for this type of therapy their expectation is that their child will be cured of homosexuality and become straight.

    The problem with this is that this is really just an illusion and not true.
    http://bit.ly/Jck4ZV
    All research is suggesting that people change their behavior and their values. There is no indication that the very basic desires to change as the result of the therapy.
    There are statements from all major mental health groups, based on scientific studies, that show that most people who undergo this therapy have a loss in their mental health.

    The motivation to change are usually rooted in both religious and familial views of homosexuality
    as both sinful and a mental illness. Often the parents are pressuring therapy that is unwanted by the child.

    The same people who would be willing to waive the prohibited behavior, often also would love to believe that they can actually “convert” not only the lifestyle, but the real attractions completely. They end up discovering later that this approach is not the case and are devastated. This results in some cases of suicide and leaving the faith.

    Besides all the mainstream psychiatric, psychological work, social, the World Health Organization advisory groups and even many experts among people who have been involved in “reparative therapy” mostly agree that it does not work in shifting the attractions.

    According to those who believe such conversions, the success rate is about 0.4%
    http://www.religioustolerance….

    Warren Throckmorton, a psychologist and professor at the evangelical Grove City College recently surveyed 239 men in the “mixed orientation marriages” in which her husband is attracted to other men and women is heterosexual. About half of the males had been through a conversion therapy.

    Throughout their marriage, men, “same sex attractions increased …” and “attractions for your spouse declined,” according to Throckmorton.

    Another study by Mark Yarhouse, a researcher at Regent University – which was founded by Pat Robertson – reached the same conclusion.

    The leader of the Exodus, the largest audience of people (thousands) that changed from a gay to the heterosexual lifestyle admits that this does not include the end of same-sex attraction for 99.9% of the group.
    “There was a change in our beliefs about therapy focused change orientation and do not believe that it is effective.”

    But organized groups are still motivated either by profit or religious dogmas to sell this quackery.

    many of it’s most famous advocates have been caught in deceit or exploitation of various sorts.

    Becase this core premise of conversion therapy is so ludicrous, even Arthur Goldberg of Jonah, who was previously imprisoned for fraud, says “JONAH rejects so-called “conversion therapies …”
    (Unfortunately and not surprisingly, he is lying and continues with it.)

    Dr. Nicholosi who is the father of repartive therapy and quoted here in support of it, also has previously admitted that his patients do not loose their same sex attractions.

    It seems that most of the tiny group of people that say they have achieved this conversion are also in the conversion business, like David Pickup.

    Is this position in conflict with religion?

    A minor with religious conflicts about homosexuality that believes he would like to become straight is faced with an extreme dilemma. There really is nothing he can do be it therapy or prayer that will achieve this goal.

    But the minor with a religious conflict about homosexuality that understands that his sexual orientation will not change can from this objective ground become abstinent from sex. As I have pointed out above, reparative conversion type therapy is completely inapropriate to facilatate this goal.

    After success with such an effort over a number of years such a person could decide if they want to also be part of a mixed orientation marriage. This would also be motivated by religious reasons.

    Evidence shows that such a decision is not likely to succeed and is likely to cause much heartache to their partners, but that is another discussion.

    The Catholic church and most other churches that believe that homosexual acts are sinful does not believe that same sex attractions per se are sinful. Judaism and Islam also don’t.
    The final holdouts are often some Evangelical Christians dealing with their sons and daughters who insist that homosexual orientation per se is a great sin and satanic.

    . Many articles in evangelical journals are now questioning reparative therapy.

    Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Al Mohler
    “We understand that sexual attraction and a profile of someone’s sexuality is a complex of factors, some of which are certainly not chosen,” he continued. “It’s not just a matter of choice. It’s not something that’s turned on or turned off.”

    Of course there are other religions that don’t view homosexuality as wrong at all. They support gays and tend to believe that the Bible should be a vehicle for love not a weapon. religious texts have been used in the past to justify attitudes and laws that are recognized today as morally wrong and unjust – such as discrimination against women, people of color and religious minorities.

    Dr. Spitzer
    “If people can recognize that being gay is something that can not be changed and that efforts to change will be disappointing and may be harmful if it can be more widely known it would be great.”

    Those who want to change their sexual behavior especially because they believe it is a sin can find help with a priest or councellor who can help them to succeed with, modesty, chastity, and patience, without charlatans who can not work to change its basic attractions.

    Without clear evidence that a treatment is effective it can not in good conscience, recommend an unproven treatment that can cause undo pain, suffering and death

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