California ‘conversion’ therapy ban is important step for protecting LGBT youth

A new California law that prohibits mental health providers from subjecting LGBT children and teens to therapy intended to change their sexual orientation is an important step toward stopping a dangerous and discredited practice, the Southern Poverty Law Center said today.

Beginning Jan. 1, California will no longer permit therapists to use “conversion” therapy, sometimes known as reparative or sexual reorientation therapy, on minors. Gov. Jerry Brown signed the legislation Saturday, making California the first state in the nation to adopt such a law. It has already inspired a New Jersey lawmaker to announce plans to introduce similar legislation in that state – a sign that California’s effort may spur similar laws across the nation.

“This is a great day for youth in California who have been subjected to incredibly harmful therapy based on junk science,” said Christine P. Sun, deputy legal director for the SPLC. “Conversion therapy has brought nothing but pain and devastation for many who have endured it. Passing this law is an important step for California and the nation to raise awareness about the lies and the bigotry behind conversion therapy and to put an end to this junk science.”

Central to conversion therapy is the belief that homosexuality is a mental disorder – a position rejected by the American Psychiatric Association nearly four decades ago. The therapy has been discredited or highly criticized by virtually all major American medical, psychiatric, psychological and professional counseling organizations.

People who have undergone conversion therapy have reported increased anxiety, depression, and in some cases, suicidal thoughts. In 2006, the American Psychological Association (APA) declared: “There is simply no sufficiently scientifically sound evidence that sexual orientation can be changed.”

Brown echoed these findings in a statement about the legislation he signed.

“These practices have no basis in science or medicine, and they will now be relegated to the dustbin of quackery,” he said.

Beyond being ineffective, the use of conversion therapy promotes the idea that LGBT people choose their sexual orientation, a position that encourages a climate of anti-LGBT bigotry. The APA expressed this concern in its 2006 statement, saying that the positions espoused by some of the leading advocates of conversion therapy, such as the National Association for Research Therapy of Homosexuality,“create an environment in which prejudice and discrimination can flourish.”

That environment can contribute to bullying, anti-LGBT violence and suicides.

In an analysis of 14 years of federal hate crime data, the SPLC found that LGBT people are far more likely to be victims of a violent hate crime than any other minority group in the United States. The SPLC also has worked to combat anti-gay bullying in schools.

But conversion therapy advocates continue to target youth, often recommending that parents commit their children to treatment against their wishes.

Jerry, a 23-year-old Texan, underwent seven years of painful conversion therapy that began when he was a minor.

“Every single day when I attended conversion therapy, I left a little more destroyed than I was before I went in that room,” he told the SPLC.

His advice to lawmakers is simple.

“Every single legislature on the state and national level needs to know that conversion therapy is nothing but lies,” he said.