According to a recent study, nearly 700,000 LGBTQ Americans have been subjected to conversion therapy by a licensed medical practitioner or a religious leader, sometimes against their will.
The controversial practice of conversion therapy is ” any of several dangerous and discredited practices aimed at changing an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity,” according to the Trevor Project. Those who practice conversion therapy view being LGBTQ as a mental illness that can be “cured” — a notion that the American Psychiatric Association has long stood against.
The APA “does not believe that same-sex orientation should or needs to be changed, and efforts to do so represent a significant risk of harm by subjecting individuals to forms of treatment which have not been scientifically validated and by undermining self-esteem when sexual orientation fails to change,” the organization wrote in 2013. “No credible evidence exists that any mental health intervention can reliably and safely change sexual orientation; nor, from a mental health perspective does sexual orientation need to be changed.”
Fortunately, several states have banned the practice being administered on children who are younger than 18 (those who are adults and consent to conversion therapy are allowed to do so).
A study from the Williams Institute at UCLA has demonstrated that the 18 states that have banned conversion therapy have helped prevent 10,000 LGBTQ youth from being harmed by conversion therapy, NBC News reported. The bans, which began with California in 2012, have protected these children, some of whom would have been subjected to conversion therapy against their will if their parents deemed it necessary for them.
Conversion therapy can cause significant harm, including depression, anxiety, and other mental ills. The practice has even been tied to an increase in suicide.
Many who are placed in conversion therapy programs end up thinking something is wrong with them when it doesn’t work. “I knew that my feelings were not going away. I blamed myself; I wasn’t trying hard enough,” Mathew Shurka, a participant in one such program, told The Guardian in 2018. “My depression was serious. I gained 60 pounds. I felt suicidal all the time.”
While the news is good that 10,000 LGBTQ children won’t be subjected to the torturous procedures, many states still allow parents to sign over their parental rights and put their children into conversion therapy programs. In fact, the same UCLA study found that 16,000 teens could be at risk of being placed in those programs in the immediate future; 58,000 could face an attempt at conversion from a religious leader in the years ahead.
The study also noted that public opinion on the subject is in support of making the practice illegal. Citing a Reuters/Ipsos poll from earlier this year, the study noted that 56 percent of Americans believed mental health practitioners should be barred from attempting conversion therapy on minors, while just 18 percent believed it should remain legal.
Featured image via Shinya Suzuki/Flickr