State Sen. Ted Lieu's legislation, SB 1172, would make it illegal… (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated…)
Gay conversion "therapy" is ineffective and harmful, The Times acknowledges in a May 11 editorial. Still, the editorial board opposes a bill in the state Senate to protect Californians from this dangerous practice.
I was a gay teenager in a deeply fundamentalist Christian household, desperate to escape what I was taught was the shame and sin of my sexual orientation. A psychotherapist promised me and my parents that he could make me straight if I tried hard enough. I latched onto that hope, envisioning a new life in which I could be saved by God and accepted by my family. But that hope turned to despair -- deep despair that lasted for years -- when I realized I could not change who I was. My experience deepened my depression, shame and feelings of isolation, rejection and failure.
Now I am a licensed marriage and family therapist who for nearly 13 years has helped lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people overcome the trauma of sexual orientation conversion therapy. I know from my own work that my experience was not unique. Many of my clients went through conversion therapy when they were minors. And many of them were -- just as I was -- eager to do anything they could to please their parents and win their love, no matter the pain.
State Sen. Ted Lieu's (D-Torrance) proposal -- SB 1172 -- would prohibit licensed psychotherapists from performing conversion therapy on minors. The bill reflects the view of every leading professional mental health organization that these therapies are based on a false claim that being lesbian, gay or bisexual is an illness or disorder that can be "cured" or managed through psychotherapy.
Though The Times concedes that conversion therapy is ineffective, it nonetheless opposes SB 1172. The editorial reasons that the market, not the Legislature, should be left to address conversion therapy because parents, over time, will realize that it doesn’t work and will stop paying for it.
That view fundamentally misunderstands and underestimates the dangers SB 1172 aims to address, and the deep-seeded biases and misinformation that so often lead parents to put their gay kids in therapy. Conversion therapy is not just ineffective. It can be damaging -- even deadly, especially for minors. According to the American Psychological Assn. and other groups, these therapies significantly increase the risk of depression, feelings of worthlessness and suicide. Those dangers are especially serious for young people.
These are not the sort of harms we can or should trust the market to eradicate. Youth often undergo conversion therapy at the insistence of parents, who, however well meaning, don’t know or don’t believe the practice is harmful. These parents may or may not learn the error of their ways, but it will be at the expense of their kids, who often have no say in the matter and do not participate in, and cannot influence, the market that The Times is confident will eliminate the practice.
Protecting youth from this psychological abuse demands state action, and Lieu's bill deserves our support.
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James Guay (JamesTherapy.com) is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Los Angeles and San Francisco who specializes in working with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender clients.
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