By Holly Williams
Elm Staff Writer
On Jan. 25, New York became the 15th state to ban conversion therapy. The bill, signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo prevents mental health professionals from administering conversion therapy to minors.
The bill was at a stalemate in the New York state assembly for years, failing to pass a Republican-controlled state Senate, when Democrats regained the majority in the 2018 midterms.
The conversion therapy ban passed alongside a bill that adds gender identity and expression as a protected class underneath New York’s anti-discrimination laws.
A report from the Williams Institute has found that nearly 700,000 American adults have undergone conversion therapy, and roughly half of them experienced the process as adolescents.
Both bills passed in New York are indicative of waning support and legitimacy behind conversion therapy. The American Psychiatric Association, as well as numerous other medical organizations, have discredited the practice. A 2014 YouGov poll found that only 8 percent of the public thinks therapy could effectively change a person’s sexual orientation. Films and books like “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” and “Boy Erased” have brought the issue to the forefront of cultural awareness.
This growing condemnation toward the practice has not arisen without good cause. Links between conversion therapy and depression and suicide are well documented. While talk therapy is usually preferred, more dangerous conversion techniques include electroconvulsive treatment and drugs that induce nausea. Conversion therapy perpetuates the harmful idea that homosexuality is a mental disorder that can be “treated.” In 2014, a transgender teen named Leelah Alcorn committed suicide after being sent to conversion therapy. Within a year, her hometown of Cincinnati criminalized conversion therapy.
Although conversion therapy is known to be traumatic and ineffective, some conservative movements still champion the institution. Maryland banned conversion therapy last year, but a recently filed federal lawsuit seeks to overturn the ban. A former conversion therapist, Christopher Doyle, filed the lawsuit and is being represented by the Liberty Counsel, a legal nonprofit that takes cases promoting Evangelical values.
The bills are perhaps problematic in the fact that they don’t reach far enough. Laws, such as one instituted in Washington state, only specifically prevent mental health professions from practicing the therapy. Religious nonprofits and “ex-gay” ministries still are exempt under the law to pursue the defunct practice.
Some former “ex-gay” leaders have come out as gay and apologized for the harm they inflicted on the LGBTQ community, including the former clinical director for the Center of Gender Wholeness. Despite the controversy, the practice remains legal in 41 states.
Religious freedom can allow for differences in belief, but not the action of child abuse disguising itself as psychiatric treatment. Conversion therapy is ineffective, only causing physiological pain and turmoil in its subjects instead of a change in sexual orientation. It targets a vulnerable population by promising an “out” from social stigmas and bias. In the religious community, we must increasingly promote a dialogue of inclusion and acceptance, where LGBTQ youth can have both their beliefs and identities.