Washington DC and four states have already banned “conversion therapy,” with 18 states having introduced bans on it. A new federal report from Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is pushing for a national ban on the controversial practice.
“Conversion therapy” is used on LGBTQ individuals to, essentially, turn them straight and cis-gender. The practice dates back to the 1900s, when homosexuality was listed as a mental illness. (Homosexuality was taken off the American Psychiatric Association’s list of mental disorders in 1974.)
There have been multiple reports – in addition to SAMHSA’s – that not only prove that conversion therapy does not work, but that it is extremely harmful to individuals.
In April, President Barack Obama voiced his support for Leelah’s Law, a petition named after Leelah Alcorn, a 17-year-old transgender teen who committed suicide after her parents forced her to enter conversion therapy.
There were three key findings in the SAMHSA report:
- Same-gender sexual orientation (including identity, behavior, and attraction) and variations in gender identity and gender expression are a part of the normal spectrum of human diversity and do not constitute a mental disorder.
- There is limited research on conversion therapy efforts among children and adolescents; however, none of the existing research supports the premise that mental or behavioral health interventions can alter gender identity or sexual orientation.
- Interventions aimed at a fixed outcome, such as gender conformity or heterosexual orientation, including those aimed at changing gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation are coercive, can be harmful, and should not be part of behavioral health treatment.
Many “therapists” who conduct conversion therapy are not licensed and have religious – not medical – backgrounds, adding to the harm this practice causes.
LGBTQ children and adolescents are the primary audience that conversion therapy practices target and are already at risk for increased bullying, suicidal thoughts and attempts, substance abuse and homelessness. Conversion therapy can exacerbate those risks by making the individual feel self-hatred for being who they are. The SAMHSA report focuses on how families, loved ones and educators can support and provide information to youth about gender identity and sexual orientation.
Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, released a statement that praised the report and referred to conversion therapy as “child abuse.”
“This is dangerous junk science that uses fear and shame to tell young people the only way to find love and acceptance is by changing the very nature of who they are,” he said. “Today’s new health report shows the extensive damage that so-called conversion therapy can cause and why it’s so urgent that we end it in all 50 states.”
SAMHSA is an agency within the US Department of Health and Human Services that makes information on substance abuse and mental illness more accessible to those who need it.