Editorial: Ban the fraud of gay conversion therapy

SHARE Editorial: Ban the fraud of gay conversion therapy

Friends of Leelah Alcorn mourn her death at a memorial service on Jan. 3, 2015 in Kings Mills, Ohio.

Being gay is not an illness. It requires no cure.

And anybody who practices “conversion therapy,” purporting to be able to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, is a quack, engaged in medical malpractice.

Conversion therapy does not work. On this, the scientific and medical consensus is strong. It can only do harm.


We urge the Illinois Senate to support a measure, sponsored by Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, and Sen. Daniel Biss, D-Evanston, that would bar mental health workers from engaging in treatments designed to change the sexual orientation of minors. The bill passed in the House on Tuesday by a vote of 68 to 43.

Biss tells us he is “optimistic” it will pass in the Senate as well, next week, but he’s still rounding up the votes.

We also support, in concept, a bill introduced in Congress on Tuesday that aims to discredit conversion therapy nationwide. The federal bill, sponsored by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and another representative from California, would ask the Federal Trade Commission to declare efforts to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity as “fraudulent” — just so much snake oil.

The federal legislation goes further than the Illinois bill, and also further than existing laws in Oregon, California, New Jersey, Washington, D.C., by banning conversion therapy for all ages. Its aim is to relegate conversion therapy to the status of malpractice, giving people grounds to file federal lawsuits against practitioners who charge for their services.

Conversion therapy is one of those issues on which there are not really two opposing credible views, and to claim otherwise is to create a false equivalency. On the one side are defenders of the practice, their views usually grounded in religious belief, who can cite no credible evidence. On the other side is the full weight of America’s mainstream medical and mental health communities, who come armed with facts.

In 2009, the American Psychological Association conducted a comprehensive review of the scientific literature and concluded that conversion therapy was not supported by any reliable evidence. An earlier study by the American Psychiatric Association concluded that “In the last four decades, ‘reparative’ therapists have not produced any rigorous scientific research to substantiate their claims of cure.”

Other groups critical of conversion therapy include the American Medical Association, the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Association of School Psychologists.

But while conversion therapy fails to convert, it can be deeply dangerous. The American Psychiatric Association has compiled a long list of the risks to the unlucky patients, including depression, self-hatred, drug abuse and suicide.

Consider the heartbreaking story of Leelah Alcorn, a 17-year-old Ohio girl whose suicide note went viral late last year. She described the harm she suffered when a therapist she was sent to by her parents tried to “cure” her of being transgender.

‘I’m never going to be happy,” Leelah wrote. “Either I live the rest of my life as a lonely man who wishes he were a woman or I live my life as a lonelier woman who hates herself. There’s no winning.”

President Obama, who was slow to endorse same-sex marriage for fear of the political fallout, has signaled support for a ban on conversion therapy. On, Tuesday, his press secretary, Josh Earnest, told a reporter for the Washington Blade that there is “overwhelming scientific evidence to indicate that this so-called therapy — especially when it’s practiced on young people — is neither medically, nor ethically appropriate.”

The president, Earnest said, “would welcome” legislation to address the issue.

That legislation exists. It is Pelosi’s bill, the Therapeutic Fraud Prevention Act. The president should get on board.

And the Illinois Senate should get on board with banning conversion therapy for minors here.

The cure does not work, and nobody needs curing.

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