A bill introduced in Congress this week would ban the harmful, widely discredited practice known as “conversion therapy” across the country.
The Therapeutic Fraud Prevention Act of 2017 calls conversion therapy “an unfair or deceptive practice” that has been largely rejected by “professionals in education, social work, health, mental health and counseling.”
Conversion therapy is a practice based on the belief that homosexuality is a mental disease or disorder that can be reversed in children.
“Such professionals have determined that there is no evidence that conversion therapy is effective or that an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity can be changed by conversion therapy,” the bill states. “Such professionals have also determined that the potential risks of conversion therapy are not only that it is ineffective, but also that it is substantially dangerous to an individual’s mental and physical health, and has been shown to contribute to depression, self-harm, low self-esteem, family rejection, and suicide.”
The bill was introduced by Democratic Sens. Patty Murray (Wash.) and Cory Booker (N.J.), as well as Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif).
“[The bill] says it is fraud if you treat someone for a condition that doesn’t exist and there’s no medical condition known as being gay,” Lieu said to The Washington Post. “LGBTQ people were born perfect; there is nothing to treat them for. And by calling this what it should be, which is fraud, it would effectively shut down most of the organizations.”
Last year Lieu and Murray sponsored the Therapeutic Fraud Prevention Act, which would have given the Federal Trade Commission the power to enforce a ban on businesses making money off of the so-called therapy. The bill did not progress.
According to Murray, the Trump administration has created a new urgency to pass the bill.
“On this and so many other issues impacting the LGBTQ community, the Trump Administration has laid out a hateful, damaging agenda to undo hard-won progress, divide our communities, and hurt our friends, neighbors, and family members just because of who they are or who they love,” Murray said in a statement. “This is absolutely the wrong direction for our country — and I will continue to push for ways to make sure all people, regardless of who they are or who they love, are treated equally and with respect.”
“So-called ‘conversion therapy’ isn’t therapy at all,” said Booker. “It’s a tortuous, fraudulent practice that has been repeatedly condemned by medical professionals and has no place in our country.”
Seven states (California, Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon and Vermont) and D.C. already have bans on conversion therapy.
Many credible organizations have come out in rejection of the practice, including the American Counseling Association, the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the American School Counselors Association and the World Psychiatric Association.
In March 2016 the World Psychiatric Association (WPA) released “WPA Position Statement on Gender Identity and Same-Sex Orientation, Attraction, and Behaviours,” which says, in part:
“There is no sound scientific evidence that innate sexual orientation can be changed. Furthermore, so-called treatments of homosexuality can create a setting in which prejudice and discrimination flourish, and they can be potentially harmful. The provision of any intervention purporting to ‘treat’ something that is not a disorder is wholly unethical.”
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) praised the lawmakers’ efforts.
“So-called ‘conversion therapy’ is nothing more than child abuse and those who inflict it on others must be held accountable,” said Chad Griffin, HRC’s president. “HRC thanks Senators Murray and Booker and Representative Lieu for their efforts to outlaw this dangerous and inhumane practice. Now more than ever, we must send a clear message to the LGBTQ community — and especially LGBTQ young people — that who you are is not something that needs to be fixed.”
The new administration has heightened concerns among the LGBT community, and with good reason. Members of the Republican Party have not been allies to the LGBT community, a stance that has not gone unnoticed. A Pew Research Center report found that 76 percent of LGBT Americans consider the Republican Party “unfriendly toward” LGBTs.
Just after President Trump took office, the White House removed all references of LGBT rights from the White House website. A report called “Advancing LGBT Workplace Rights” also disappeared from the Department of Labor website.
Vice-president Mike Pence has an anti-LGBT history and is believed to support conversion therapy as well. In 2000, when Pence was running for Congress, his campaign website had a section regarding allocation of funds for the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency (CARE) Act, a 1990 law that provides financial assistance for HIV/AIDS treatment for patients who cannot afford it on their own. His website stated, “Congress should support the reauthorization of the Ryan White Care Act only after completion of an audit to ensure that federal dollars were no longer being given to organizations that celebrate and encourage the types of behaviors that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus. Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.”
What Is Conversion Therapy
The American Psychiatric Association voted to remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders in 1973. However, some therapists continue to use conversion, or reformative, therapy. The “therapy” is designed to “cure” people who identify as homosexual, bisexual or transgender. It has been outlawed in several states because not only have experts deemed it fraudulent, it has also been proven to be harmful in some cases, particularly in children and adolescents.
In 2008 the American Psychological Association published “Just the Facts About Sexual Orientation and Youth: A Primer for Principals, Educators, and School Personnel.” The publication was endorsed by numerous prestigious organizations, including the American Counseling Association and the National Association of School Psychologists. The publication reiterates the widely accepted belief in the world of psychology that homosexuality is not a disorder and therefore cannot be “cured”:
“The most important fact about these ‘therapies’ is that they are based on a view of homosexuality that has been rejected by all the major mental health professions. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association, which defines the standards of the field, does not include homosexuality. All other major health professional organizations have supported the American Psychiatric Association in its declassification of homosexuality as a mental disorder in 1973. Thus, the idea that homosexuality is a mental disorder or that the emergence of same-sex attraction and orientation among some adolescents is in any way abnormal or mentally unhealthy has no support among any mainstream health and mental health professional organizations.”
The report also suggests schools reject this therapy as it may be harmful for LGBT students, who, the text notes, are already more likely to face discrimination in their schools, communities and families: “The promotion in schools of efforts to change sexual orientation by therapy or through religious ministries seems likely to exacerbate the risk of harassment, harm, and fear for these youth.”