It will soon be illegal for licensed therapists to try to “cure” minors of their homosexuality in the state of California. Governor Jerry Brown signed SB-1172 into law this past weekend, outlawing the dangerous, destructive practice for those under 18 statewide. So-called “reparative therapy” has been around since psychologists first began recognizing the complexities of sexuality. All credible psychologists, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals have rejected it for nearly 40 years. Trailblazing California is the first state to ban it altogether for minors (effective January 1, 2013).
“These practices[reparative therapy] have no basis in science or medicine and they will now be relegated to the dustbin of quackery” – Governor Brown
The law itself is quite stunning and one of the many reasons I am proud to be California born-and-bred. Paragraph after paragraph, SB-1172, also known as the “Sexual orientation change efforts” law, destroys the myth that being LGBT is abnormal and somehow perverted. The first half of the very first section of the bill makes the case for why such a law is needed:
(a) Being lesbian, gay, or bisexual is not a disease, disorder, illness, deficiency, or shortcoming. The major professional associations of mental health practitioners and researchers in the United States have recognized this fact for nearly 40 years.
(b) The American Psychological Association convened a Task Force on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation. The task force conducted a systematic review of peer-reviewed journal literature on sexual orientation change efforts, and issued a report in 2009. The task force concluded that sexual orientation change efforts can pose critical health risks to lesbian, gay, and bisexual people, including confusion, depression, guilt, helplessness, hopelessness, shame, social withdrawal, suicidality, substance abuse, stress, disappointment, self-blame, decreased self-esteem and authenticity to others, increased self-hatred, hostility and blame toward parents, feelings of anger and betrayal, loss of friends and potential romantic partners, problems in sexual and emotional intimacy, sexual dysfunction, high-risk sexual behaviors, a feeling of being dehumanized and untrue to self, a loss of faith, and a sense of having wasted time and resources.
(c) The American Psychological Association issued a resolution on Appropriate Affirmative Responses to Sexual Orientation Distress and Change Efforts in 2009, which states: “[T]he [American Psychological Association] advises parents, guardians, young people, and their families to avoid sexual orientation change efforts that portray homosexuality as a mental illness or developmental disorder and to seek psychotherapy, social support, and educational services that provide accurate information on sexual orientation and sexuality, increase family and school support, and reduce rejection of sexual minority youth.”
(d) The American Psychiatric Association published a position statement in March of 2000 in which it stated:
“Psychotherapeutic modalities to convert or ‘repair’ homosexuality are based on developmental theories whose scientific validity is questionable. Furthermore, anecdotal reports of ‘cures’ are counterbalanced by anecdotal claims of psychological harm. In the last four decades, ‘reparative’ therapists have not produced any rigorous scientific research to substantiate their claims of cure. Until there is such research available, [the American Psychiatric Association] recommends that ethical practitioners refrain from attempts to change individuals’ sexual orientation, keeping in mind the medical dictum to first, do no harm.
The potential risks of reparative therapy are great, including depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior, since therapist alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self-hatred already experienced by the patient. Many patients who have undergone reparative therapy relate that they were inaccurately told that homosexuals are lonely, unhappy individuals who never achieve acceptance or satisfaction. The possibility that the person might achieve happiness and satisfying interpersonal relationships as a gay man or lesbian is not presented, nor are alternative approaches to dealing with the effects of societal stigmatization discussed.
Therefore, the American Psychiatric Association opposes any psychiatric treatment such as reparative or conversion therapy which is based upon the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder or based upon the a priori assumption that a patient should change his/her sexual homosexual orientation.
(n) California has a compelling interest in protecting the physical and psychological well-being of minors, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth, and in protecting its minors against exposure to serious harms caused by sexual orientation change efforts.”
The American Psychological Association and The American Psychiatric Association are not alone in their assessments. The American School Counselor Association, The American Academy of Pediatrics, The American Medical Association, The American Counseling Association, The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and The Pan American Health Organization (regional office of the World Health Organization) have all denounced reparative therapy. This isn’t some “liberal” conspiracy; they’re peer-reviewed, scholarly studies designed to discover the effects of reparative therapy. The findings of the professionals: stay far away from it.
The law delivers a major blow to one of the major pillars of the argument against same-sex marriage. The Prop 8 trials were filled with numerous claims that homosexuality was not a natural variant on human sexuality – despite all credible mental health organizations saying otherwise – and thus discrimination should be maintained in the state constitution. With an entire American state essentially slamming the door in the face of that argument, marriage equality is even more inevitable.
There is one exception to the law: minors 12-17 years of age have the ability to choose to undergo this ridiculous treatment. I worry that the LGBT youth “choosing” to undergo this quack treatment will actually be coerced or even forced by their families to go. Will there be a way to tell if parents and family are forcing their children to undergo this “treatment” under the guise of “choice?” We shall see what happens.
Despite this compromise, anti-gay groups are already preparing to sue over SB-1172. I must say, you gotta admire their determination: In spite of society moving to accept and treat all people equally, ironically labeled “pro-family, pro-America” groups have the gall to identify which groups deserve second class citizenship and which deserve first. It’s almost a moving story on the perseverance of a small, organized and determined group… (*insert MEGA sarcasm*). Damn that United States Constitution and its equality for all! 😉
Citing the official positions of the world’s leading mental health organizations isn’t the only angle SB-1172 takes. This groundbreaking law also cites disturbing facts:
LGBT youth who experience family rejection for their identity are…
- over eight times as likely to attempt suicide,
- almost six times as likely to have high levels of depression,
- over three times as likely to abuse drugs,
- and over three times as likely to have dangerous, unprotected sex than their LGBT counterparts who experience little to no rejection from family.
This is one of the best things to come out of the California legislature in a while. Despite the fact that California is very dysfunctional politically and economically (thanks mostly, in my opinion, to an out-of-control ballot initiative/proposition process), the Golden State doesn’t condemn people for being who they are. California’s lead on this issue is already being emulated; New Jersey and other states are considering similar laws. Despite the protests of groups that are neither “pro-family” nor “pro-America,” society is moving forward. As Dick Cheney said (ironically, to say the least), “…freedom means freedom for everyone.”