Dr. Jack Drescher said, “If you really want to educate the public about the risks of these treatments, the fact that there are states that have outlawed these treatments should be a chilling fact.”
A bill that would ban the controversial practice of gay “conversion therapy” for minors was introduced to the New York State Senate on Friday. The legislation, which was sponsored by Senator Michael Gianaris and Senator Deborah Glick, is “modeled after a new California law that bans licensed therapists from using the practice…on minors.” Although the legislation in California was signed into law last fall, it has been tied up in federal court based on two separate lawsuits which claim the legislation is “an unconstitutional violation of free speech and parental rights.” Glick however explained that although the California legislation is still on hold pending these legal challenges, the time was right for the introduction of the bill in New York. She said, “There are often challenges to any manner of legislation that is protecting of the LGBT community and you can’t sit on your hands and wait until things get resolved somewhere else.”
Gay conversion therapy has been around for decades. However, it has come under increased scrutiny in the last few years as LGBT activists have asserted it is not effective, and can even cause harm to the individuals who undergo the treatments. In fact, the practice has been renounced by the entire mainstream mental health community. The American Psychiatric Association says:
All major national mental health organizations have officially expressed concerns about therapies promoted to modify sexual orientation. To date, there has been no scientifically adequate research to show that therapy aimed at changing sexual orientation (sometimes called reparative or conversion therapy) is safe or effective. Furthermore, it seems likely that the promotion of change therapies reinforces stereotypes and contributes to a negative climate for lesbian, gay, and bisexual persons.
Due to the fact that homosexuality is not classified as a mental health disorder, conversion therapy is not considered a “psychological treatment,” and, therefore, there are no professional standards or guidelines for how it is conducted. As LiveScience explains, practices that range from aversion therapy which include “shocking patients or giving them nausea-inducing drugs while showing them same-sex erotica,” to talk therapy which, “emphasizes pseudoscientific theories, such as the idea that an overbearing mother and a distant father make a child gay,” are employed to “cure” a patient and change their sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual.
According to the Huffington Post, Glick became interested in a ban on conversion therapy for minors after her years of work with LGBT homeless youth. She told HuffPo on Thursday:
You start to hear the same stories over and over again. “They tried to make me straight and they took me to …,” or, “I couldn’t become — and so they threw me out.” The rate of suicide, the level of depression, the kind of bullying in school that is focused on homophobic epithets, even when students clearly are not gay. So there’s clearly an issue about being more supportive toward gay youth. And then you have folks who have made a business out of this alleged ability to make gay people straight.
But opponents argue that legislation such as that which was passed in California and has been introduced in New York, “attacks free speech, unconstitutionally regulates what therapists and patients can say to each other, and infringes on parents’ authority to seek whatever type of professional help they choose for their children.” They assert that the “right” to conversion therapy is a “civil rights issue,” particularly for young people who are being blocked from getting the “counseling they need, that their parents may feel they need, and most importantly, that a trained licensed psychologist feels they need.” The president of Pacific Justice Institute, which is responsible for bringing one of the lawsuits against the California legislation, Brad Dacus, has described the bills as “draconian and closed-minded,” and said that, “It’s a sad, crying shame that such a politicized dogmatic perspective has the potential to totally close the door on individuals who want counseling.”
However, as supporters have pointed out, the legislation “does not bar adults from seeking conversion therapy, nor does it prevent parents from taking their children to unlicensed therapists, or to church counseling centers.” What is does do, at least partially, is sere as a warning to the general public as to the potential dangers associated with these so-called therapies. Dr. Jack Drescher, a psychiatrist in New York and an expert on sexual orientation and gender identity said, “If you really want to educate the public about the risks of these treatments, the fact that there are states that have outlawed these treatments should be a chilling fact.”
Whether for or against these types of legislation, one point that both sides seem to agree on is that bans on conversion therapy “sit at the heart of the culture war over gay rights.” Senator Gianaris said:
It’s symbolic of the overall debate, and what underlies the belief of those who support this kind of therapy is that there is something wrong with being gay or lesbian. We’re in the middle of a great cultural battle over sexual orientation right now. And it’s important that as we’re securing victories in the marriage fights that we don’t let attacks on our gay and lesbian youth occur in other forms.
Photo: Drab Makyo/Flickr