California Sexual Orientation Conversion Bill Could Inform Patients, Protect Minors

Legislation designed to protect patients from sexual orientation “conversion therapy” was advanced yesterday by the California state Senate Business, Professions, and Economic Development Committee. The bill, written by Sen. Ted Lieu and sponsored by Equality California, recognizes that changing a patient’s sexual orientation has not been clinically proven to be possible, and can be potentially dangerous. The bill adds a section to the Business and Professions Code that requires patients to sign a specific consent form stating as much. Additionally, the bill bans all sexual orientation conversion therapy for minors “regardless of the willingness of a patient’s parent, guardian, conservator, or other person to authorize such efforts”.

From Bill 1172:

This bill would prohibit psychotherapists, as defined, from performing sexual orientation change efforts, as defined, in the absence of informed consent of the patient. The bill would require a specified statement to be included on the informed consent form. Informed consent would not be effective for patients under 18 years of age. The bill would provide for a cause of action against psychotherapists by patients, former patients, or certain other persons in specified cases.

The bill outlines specifically and scientifically the potential dangers of ex-gay therapy and points out the statistically higher risks faced by LGBT youths rejected by their families. Though neither the harmfulness of ex-gay therapy nor the struggles encountered by many LGBT youths are exactly news, I nevertheless find it exciting/shocking/smirk-worthy to see it all laid out in legislative writing.

Sexual orientation change efforts pose critical health risks to lesbian, gay, and bisexual people, including confusion,depression, guilt, helplessness, hopelessness, shame, social withdrawal, suicidality, substance abuse, stress, disappointment, self-blame, decreased self-esteem and authenticity to others, increased self-hatred, hostility and blame toward parents, feelings of anger and betrayal, loss of friends and potential romantic partners, problems in sexual and emotional intimacy, sexual dysfunction, high-risk sexual behaviors, a feeling of being dehumanized and untrue to self, a loss of faith, and a sense of having wasted time and resources…

Minors who experience family rejection based on their sexual orientation face especially serious health risks. In one study, lesbian, gay, and bisexual young adults who reported higher levels of family rejection during adolescence were 8.4 times more likely to report having attempted suicide, 5.9 times more likely to report high levels of depression, 3.4 times more likely to use illegal drugs, and 3.4 times more likely to report having engaged in unprotected sexual intercourse compared with peers from families that reported no or low levels of family rejection.

There’s no way of knowing how much a consent form will do to dissuade those desperate to rid themselves of same sex attraction. What is blah-blah-blah-sign-here in the face of a fantasy everlasting cure? Yet, the wording of the consent form makes it quite clear that not only is ex-gay therapy useless and potentially harmful, but that basically everyone in the mental health world is opposed to it.

Having a lesbian, gay, or bisexual sexual orientation is not a mental disorder. There is no scientific evidence that any types of therapies are effective in changing a person’s sexual orientation. Sexual orientation change efforts can be harmful. The risks include, but are not limited to, depression, anxiety, and self-destructive behavior.

Medical and mental health associations that oppose the use of sexual orientation change efforts include the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the National Association of Social Workers, the American Counseling Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy.

If such therapy is performed without such informed consent (or to a minor) patients/patient families can sue for damages for a minimum of $5,000. This is particularly important in light of the legislation’s specification that “consent that is provided as a result of therapeutic deception or duress or coercion is not informed consent.” Basically, if you go around telling your patients everything on the consent form is false and they should just sign it anyways you’re going to get slapped with a lawsuit.

It would seem Bill 1172 has arrived at a bad time for ex-gay therapy supporters. Just a few weeks ago, Robert Spitzer retracted his ex-gay study results and his previous claims that “at least for a highly select group of motivated individuals, [sexual orientation conversion therapy] worked.” Spitzer admitted that critiques were largely correct, and that his study merely reflects how some ex-gay individuals speak about their experiences. He even issued an unprecedented apology for “making unproven claims of the efficacy of reparative therapy.”

Still, the bill has a rough road ahead of it; the California Psychological Association opposes the bill in its current form. The CPA has taken pro-gay positions on legislation/research in the past and their objection seems to be based on the imposition of government oversight in to patient care, not a belief that conversion therapy works. Specifically, the CPA takes issue with the outright ban on ex-gay therapy for minors. In a letter co-authored by California Association for Licensed Professional Clinical Counselors, California Psychiatric Association and California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, CPA stated that it was, “troubled by the complete ban on SOCE treatment for minors, especially in the situation wherein the minor legally consents to his/her own treatment free of parental or guardian influence.”

What I think the CPA fails to see is that there really isn’t a way for most minors to consent to something “free of parental or guardian influence.” Just because a teenager can say “My parents have nothing to do with my choice, I don’t want to be gay” doesn’t mean that same kid isn’t already receiving a home-brewed variety of anti-gay or pray-the-gay-away rhetoric, which means their consent wouldn’t really be ‘informed.’ Additionally, while a minor might not actually want ex-gay therapy, they are literally at the mercy of their parents in terms of what goes on at home. Saying no to something a parent wants, especially when faith is involved, is not a realistic option for most kids.

If passed by the California state Senate, Bill 1172 could become model legislation use throughout the country. Though informed consent is always critical, the real beacon of hope here is the ban on ex-gay therapy for minors. Without being allowed to ship kids off to pray-the-gay-away camps, maybe they can figure out who they are before people start telling them who they shouldn’t be.

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Lizz is a consumer, lover and writer of all things pop culture and the Fashion/Style Editor at Autostraddle.com. She is also full time medical student at Brown University in Providence, RI. You can find her on the twitter, the tumblr or even on the instagram.

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32 Comments

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    Maybe I am the only one, but I’m a bit conflicted on this. I certainly don’t like the anti-gay clinics, however, throwing up a bunch of procedures to make accessing something legal extra difficult because we don’t like it? Strikes me as a little too close for comfort with all those laws designed to keep woman from having access to abortions. I know abortions work and repairitive therapy doesn’t, but still. I’m uneasy with the concept of this bill.

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      I am also conflicted on this issue.

      I don’t think children should be subject to ex-gay “treatments” except, what if they are desperate – taking away their only hope might just lead to suicide, whereas a good counselor might allow them that false hope long enough to see them through the denial phase of acceptance.

      the problem with requiring ex-gay programs to explain that ex-gay therapies aren’t proven to work is that the people running the programs usually believe that they will work.

      it’s only after you’ve spent x number of years torturing yourself psychologically, and detected no change in experience of attractions, that you awake to the realization that our sexual orientation really wasn’t given to us so that we could try to change it.

      but what do I know. I’m only just leaving an ex-gay program myself and am still mostly confused on the issues.

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        Hey, I know what it’s like to be in and to leave one of those programs- my parents made me go while I still lived in their house- and I think that the confusion it causes is exactly what these lawmakers are speaking out against. No one should have to go through that, especially if imposed by authority figures they trust.

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      I don’t think it’s making the access itself less difficult, just the “lying about its effectiveness” part. The consent form isn’t preventing legally consenting adults from accessing and using this service, it’s just making sure that they’re at least more informed about the possible consequences.

      As for the barring access to a legal procedure for minors, to make an admitted stretch of a metaphor, minors can’t buy alcohol or cigarettes, either. These things are legal products, but until you’re an adult in the eyes of the law, hands off. I don’t see any sort of quandary here in terms of barring minors from being subjected to something they’re not mature enough to fully understand.

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        Another analogy might be laws preventing cosmetic surgery for minors. If they wanted a nose job or a boob job, they’d have to wait, not only until their bodies were ready to make big changes but also until they were capable of making the decision. If they want to “change” their sexual orientation, they have to wait for the same thing.

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      The problem is that this is not just “we don’t like it.” The problem is that these “therapies” are false, proven not to work & based on bigotry. The reason they ought not to be legal is that not only are everything I said, but they are harming people.

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    I’ve only ever met one “ex-gay” in my life. At the time, I was in a really weird/terrible place personally (Pro Tip: If you are currently, like I was, trying to figure out how to reconcile you religion with your gayness…stop going to a Baptist church. Just…find another denomination. Please.) I’d confided to a few close friends from this church that I was pretty sure I was gay, and was told to “talk to her (the ex-gay), she’ll help you figure it out”. This basically meant that she spent a lot of time telling me to pray hard and God would fix me right up, and I sort of nodded and kept feeling terrible about myself.

    Fast forward a few years, and my real friends and I left the Baptist church (which is a much longer story that ended with everyone from that church dropping us like it’s hot), and found a community that actually practices that whole “love everyone” schtick. Being in this place meant I eventually stopped feeling terrible for long enough to realize that there’s no maybe about my gayness. I’m so gay, you guys. Gay gay gay gay gay.

    I guess where I wanted to go with this is that I try really hard not to judge other people’s individual motivations for things like this. As in, if someone really and truly believes that conversion therapy worked for them, then it’s not my place to pass judgement them. All I can do is support them in whatever happens down the road.

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      “Fast forward a few years, and my real friends and I left the Baptist church… and found a community that actually practices that whole “love everyone” schtick.”

      We are in the same boat! I grew up Baptist and stuck around a little too long. Episcopalian now, perchance? Or another affirming church?

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        i’m currently in seminary (one of the queerest in the country) and its kinda crazy how many of us queers left baptist traditions…seriously at least half of the queers here, myself included, left the baptists…the other half were raised in super progressive and affirming traditions…its so awesome that not all denominations think you can pray the gay away!!

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        Lutheran, ELCA.

        ::Disclaimer: This isn’t to say that every baptist out there hates the gays (I do hate to stereotype, and I’m sure there are some lovely ones). But every one that I’ve met has.::

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          Amen, there’s actually an affirming Baptist church in the Atlanta area, I saw them in last year’s pride parade.

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    I went and looked at firststone’s website and read through the lesbianism testimonial. It makes me very sad that weak and mind-manipulated people are being used as the catalyst for ex-gay ministry work.

    Religion is a fear based tactic to control innocent people, especially children!

    Universal love is the only answer.

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      “Religion is a fear based tactic to control innocent people, especially children!” Don’t you love it when people deny this… Excellently put.

      First time I heard of these types of organizations was in Religulous with Bill Maher. So gross, cannot even…

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          You’re right. I agree with the statement of religion often being “used” to control people with fear and apologize for the mistype. The fundamental of all religions alike and thus personal spirituality is love and humanitarianism. If we all strive for this mentality the world can be a loving and accepting place. Through these challenges let’s make it so!

          Grant that I may be given appropriate difficulties and sufferings on this journey so that my heart may be truly awakened and my practice of liberation and universal compassion may be truly fulfilled. ~Buddhist Prayer~

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      I think it is a lot more apt to say that “religion ‘can be’ a fear based tactic to control innocent people” than “religion ‘is’ a fear based tactic.”

      Just because a vocal minority of religious people abuse it to justify their bigotry doesn’t mean that that is all religion is. Churches, synagogues, mosques, and whatever other places people go to worship provide a lot of people support and a feeling of comfort and safety.

      It is extremely unfair to lump all religion in with the assholes.

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      religion itself is not inherently hateful or controlling or anti-gay/trans*. it’s really erasive of religious queers to say that.

      also, you have no idea why people are in anti-gay therapy programs. like, i am currently in therapy that is supposed to make me less queer because it’s the only way that i can continue living with my parents. survival is never weak.

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    I recently had the privilege to see the Brisbane launch of locally produced documentary The Cure, which focused on ex-gay reparitive programs and the assholes behind them… aside from it making me so angry I was about to rip out the chair I was sitting on and thrust it rage-filled towards the screen, it was quite the compelling piece, which makes me SO FUCKING HAPPY that someone was smart enough to introduce a bill like this.

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      Probably reasonable, EqCA has a good record of working with the legislature and passing bills. With a democratic governor, most stuff passed gets signed. I think the real question is whether or not the bill will be amended in a substantive way, the “a minor cannot by law be offered this thing” seems like something that may well be amended to something softer. I think the legislature is going to have a tough time protecting children from this “treatment” option while at the same time providing minors freedom to chose it if they somehow wanted to… it’s a tricky situation, I personally like the existing text and hope they keep as much of it as possible. With EqCA involved I have pretty high hopes, and of there is an amendment, I trust them to be fairly good advocates for being really careful about getting it as right as the politics and various trade offs wrt to personal freedoms and the odd place minors have under the law might allow.

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    “Sexual orientation change efforts pose critical health risks to lesbian, gay, and bisexual people, including confusion, depression, guilt, helplessness, hopelessness, shame, social withdrawal, suicidality, stress, disappointment, self-blame, decreased self-esteem and authenticity to others, increased self-hatred, hostility and blame toward parents, feelings of anger and betrayal, loss of friends and potential romantic partners, problems in sexual and emotional intimacy, sexual dysfunction, high-risk sexual behaviors, a feeling of being dehumanized and untrue to self, a loss of faith, and a sense of having wasted time and resources…”

    Hopefully the bill is passed and reform spreads throughout the country, coming from someone who has battled for 20 years with denying my gayness, fundamentalist mother that emotionally destroyed and condemned to hell my (also) lesbian sister, I have come to slowly realize that it will always be there, ready to rear its’ “head” when I least expect it. It is an essential component to who I am and also the people in the picture (couldn’t help it).

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    I had a dream (not a mlk reference) that my grandma was dying and I was the only one around to pray that she would live. When I told my mum the dream, she alluded to the fact that I’m having dreams because, the devil around my gay ass is tormenting me. I grew up Pentecostal, which I would never turn my back on my beliefs. Just the idiots in church who try to tell me that I don’t love God just as much because I’m gay. Ridiculous.

    I was homeless twice last year (once in San Diego, where I went to pride and got invited to the greatest lesbian party ever, yay cali) and I felt alone, misunderstood, broken, condemned, and hurt. However, no matter the objections my mum or anyone has to my lesbian pussy eating self, I simply keep fighting, and I believe my mum see’s the fight I have overcome and is slowly starting to accept it. My point, I am happy that someone is fighting for us, one step at a time more people are starting to see the effects of hatred. Regardless of the technicalities, we need hope. I need hope. The kids alone in the closet need hope.
    (too much milk?)

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    Those ex-gay therapy groups have some obscured views about themselves. When I came out, my mother made me read a religious anti-gay book that talked about the “success stories” of these groups. None of them convinced me, even though they were just paragraphs in the book.

    Then the book presented some BS stats about how many people were “converted” and yet from that percentage, they mentioned that some remained celibate. CELIBATE? That does not mean they were successful..

    I’ve had enough with my mother asking me to pray the gay away and asking me to attend such therapy groups (and being forced to go to church twice a week now). The negative effects are too much and even today, I still struggle with those kinds of issues and feelings. I just hope that this bill helps many other minors so they don’t have to deal with what many of us have already dealt with.

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