SPLC files complaint against Illinois social worker offering ‘ex-gay’ therapy

The Southern Poverty Law Center marked National Coming Out Day by filing a complaint today against a Chicago-area social worker who offers conversion therapy services – a dangerous and unethical practice that proponents claim can change a person’s sexual orientation.

The complaint sent to the licensing board – the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation – calls upon the department to investigate the social worker’s professional integrity. The complaint states that conversion therapy, an anti-gay and medically harmful practice, is a violation of Illinois’ Professional Counselor and Clinical Professional Counselor Licensing Act.

Conversion therapy is a psychologically damaging practice based on the premise that people can change their sexual orientation, literally “converting” from gay to straight. It has been discredited or highly criticized by all major American medical, psychiatric, psychological and professional counseling organizations. In 2006, the American Psychological Association (APA) declared: “There is simply no sufficiently scientifically sound evidence that sexual orientation can be changed.”

“It is deeply concerning that a mental health professional, licensed by the state of Illinois, is allowed to freely practice a discredited form of counseling that has no place in modern therapy,” said Christine P. Sun, SPLC deputy legal director. “Conversion therapy has caused nothing but pain and devastation. The state of Illinois must hold mental health professionals accountable for unethical and harmful conduct.”

The SPLC urged all state licensing boards and professional organizations to vigorously enforce regulations that can prevent mental health professionals from practicing this junk science. People who have undergone treatment have reported increased anxiety, depression, and in some cases, suicidal thoughts.

The SPLC also noted the significance of filing the complaint on National Coming Out Day.

“National Coming Out Day was established in order to promote a safe world for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals to live truthfully and openly,” Sun said. “This is in sharp contrast to the lies and bigotry peddled by the conversion therapy movement. We are happy that we can expose the movement and allow this day to truly reflect what it was established to do – support LGBT people.”

In its 2006 statement, the APA expressed concern that the positions espoused by some of the leading advocates of conversion therapy “create an environment in which prejudice and discrimination can flourish.”

As part of an effort to raise awareness of this practice, the SPLC released a video featuring a conversion therapy survivor who tells his story.

Jerry, a 23-year-old Texan, underwent seven years of conversion therapy, which caused only anguish and pain. It did not change his sexual orientation or the orientation of anyone he met during his treatment.

“The ex-gay industry did nothing but provide me and my family with false promises,” he said. “This industry preys on gay and lesbian people and their families, who buy into the idea that someone’s gay orientation can be cured. Conversion therapy is a failure and it’s wrong. We must stop this dangerous practice before more people get hurt.”

The SPLC was joined by the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health (ICAH) in filing the complaint.

“We joined this complaint because we advocate safe policies and practices in healthcare access that affirm the sexual health, identity and rights of youth in Illinois,” said Yamani Hernandez, executive director for ICAH. “This social worker is offering a practice that is harmful to the health of young people. We are concerned about his licensure as a form of endorsement of his behavior.”

The American Psychoanalytic Association (APsaA) also criticized conversion therapy during a media briefing about the complaint.

“The nation’s leading mental health organizations caution against subjecting gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender individuals to conversion therapy because it has been found to be ineffective and harmful,” said R. Dennis Shelby, Ph.D., director of doctoral studies for the Institute for Clinical Social Work. Shelby is also co-chair of APsaA’s committee on advocacy.

Conversion therapy survivors, and friends and family members of survivors, are encouraged to privately share their stories here. Readers also can view an interactive map showing the locations of nearly 70 therapists who advertise conversion therapy.