The California Senate sent the state’s proposed ban on ex-gay therapy for minors to Governor Jerry Brown’s desk on Thursday. Here are five reasons Governor Brown should sign the legislation.
1) Ex-gay therapy treats homosexuality like a disorder — even though it isn’t.
Homosexuality was depathologized by the American Psychiatric Association in 1973. This means that homosexuality in and of itself is no longer considered a mental illness or disorder. Since then, all mainstream medical bodies have moved forward under the understanding that it is anxiety about sexuality and not homosexuality that should be of concern to medical professionals. However, you will often see ex-gay therapy pushers using the phrase “people suffering from Same-Sex Attraction” when referring to their work in trying to “cure” homosexuality. This creates a pathology where there isn’t one and willfully misdiagnoses the real reasons why someone might be unhappy being homosexual: discrimination, whether from secular or, more usually, religious quarters.
2) Ex-gay therapy’s effectiveness has never been proven by mainstream science.
The “Choosing to Change” lie pedaled by ex-gay therapists is a house of cards built mainly on one very flawed study, a 2001 research piece carried out by Doctor Robert Spitzer that was published in the well respected Archives of Sexual Behavior. Spitzer, who was instrumental in the depathologizing of homosexuality, claimed that his study of 200 participants had shown that people really could leave homosexuality behind.
Except the study was deeply flawed. By Dr. Spitzer’s own admission, most recently reiterated earlier this year, the study in fact only proved that the study’s participants, all already involved in sexuality change efforts, reported believing their sexuality had changed. The study also failed to track participants over any length of time to see if this self-reported change was maintained.
Spitzer has recanted his view of the study and apologized to the gay community for the harms he acknowledges the, albeit well-meaning, study may have caused. Even so, groups like NARTH and PFOX continue to this day to maintain that science is on their side, despite there being no independent peer-reviewed material that agrees sexual orientation change is effective. This lack of evidence has even caused leaders of Exodus, one of the most high-profiled ex-gay groups, to drop sexual orientation change efforts in favor of promoting abstinence.
3) Ex-gay therapy is not an appropriate treatment for anxiety over sexuality.
While in a very small number of cases it may be necessary to attempt to reduce a patient’s level of sexual attraction in order to reduce the anxiety they feel over their sexuality, mainstream medical bodies like the American Psychological Association have all made it policy that in no circumstances should homosexuality be treated as a root cause of anxiety. Rather, the focus should be on helping patients overcome the damaging effects of prejudice, discrimination and alienation.
Helpful responses of a therapist treating an individual who is troubled about her or his same-sex attractions include helping that person actively cope with social prejudices against homosexuality, successfully resolve issues associated with and resulting from internal conflicts, and actively lead a happy and satisfying life.
Ex-gay therapy has no support among mainstream medical authorities, therefore any therapist offering it as a viable treatment to sexual orientation anxiety or related distress should immediately be suspect.
4) Ex-gay therapy is damaging.
Ex-gay therapy is insidious in its potential psychological harm because it introduces the idea that if you only try hard enough, you can change your sexuality.
Where does that lead someone who cannot overcome their (immutable) sexuality? Documented cases say it leads to depression, substance abuse and an increase in suicidal thoughts. It is, if you like, victim blaming at its most profound. Here’s one man’s story about his experiences with ex-gay therapy:
5) Ex-gay therapy is not a religious or parental right.
Certain Republican lawmakers in the California Assembly this week advanced the argument that sending a minor to ex-gay therapy was a parental right because it is up to parents to pass on their beliefs and morals. This is a line that NARTH and PFOX have used extensively in trying to fight the ex-gay therapy ban. There is a severe lack of logic behind such a statement, however. As shown above, ex-gay therapy is not medically recognized as a viable treatment, it in fact lacks scientific support, it is demonstrably harmful, and it has a negligible success rate — ex-gay therapy on minors, therefore, is a potential harm that equates to little more than child abuse. There is a self-evident overriding government interest in preventing abuse. The religious defense and the parental rights cry both lack sufficient power to curtail that interest.
As such, the bill, even in its watered-down form, remains a critical step in preventing ex-gay therapy harming young people.
Take Action! Tell Governor Brown to sign the ex-gay ban bill.