Earlier this week, the Williams Institute released an alarming report on the number of LGBTQ teens who will be subjected to conversion therapy. So-called “conversion therapy,” sometimes referred to as “sexual orientation change efforts” or “reparative therapy,” is a range of practices that seek to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity. These practices are based on the false premise that being LGBTQ is a mental illness that needs to be cured.
The Williams Institute report found that approximately 20,000 LGBTQ minors will be subjected to conversion therapy by a licensed healthcare professional in states without laws protecting them from the practice. This is despite the fact that conversion therapy has been universally criticized by the American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, American Medical Association and every other mainstream medical and mental health organization. In fact, research has shown that conversion therapy poses dangerous health risks for LGBTQ young people. Use of these harmful practices can lead to depression, decreased self-esteem, substance abuse, homelessness and even suicidal behavior.
Thankfully, many states have been leading efforts to protect LGBTQ youth from the harmful practice.. California, Connecticut, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and the District of Columbia have enacted laws or regulations to protect minors from being subjected to conversion therapy by state-licensed mental health providers. In several states, these bills were signed into law by Republican governors, illustrating the bipartisan support for curbing conversion therapy. And these bipartisan efforts are making a difference. The Williams Institute study found that 6,000 LGBTQ youth who live in states that protect against the practice would have received conversion therapy from a licensed health care professional if these protections had not been put in place.
HRC is working with organizations such as NCLR to expand the number of states that protect minors from conversion therapy and is working with municipalities around the country to pass local legislation when states are slow to act. Just two weeks ago, Broward County, Florida, voted to protect LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy. In taking this action, Broward County joined a growing number of municipalities that have enacted similar protections, including cities and counties in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Washington, Florida, New York and Arizona. Last week, HRC praised the Washington State Senate for passing legislation that would protect LGBTQ youth across the Evergreen State. The bill is currently before the House for consideration.
At the federal level, HRC is working to pass the Therapeutic Fraud Prevention Act, which would expressly classify the selling and advertising of conversion therapy as prohibited consumer fraud.
The Williams Institute report underscores the importance of enacting laws to protect minors from conversion therapy, especially under the current political climate, where the Trump-Pence Administration has done nothing to address this fraudulent and harmful practice. In fact, as governor of Indiana, Mike Pence opposed funding to treat HIV unless it was offset by cuts to programs that he claimed "...celebrate and encourage the types of behaviors that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus." Pence instead preferred funding harmful conversion therapy programs that would seek to change "sexual behavior." In addition, the Trump-Pence administration has nominated federal judges who have supported conversion therapy, such as Jeff Mateer (whose nomination was withdrawn following bipartisan opposition) and L. Steven Grasz, who served on the board of a nonprofit that backed the abusive practice of conversion therapy for LGBTQ minors and was unwilling to clarify his own views during his confirmation hearing.