California Bans ‘Gay Cure’ Therapy for Minors
California has approved a ban on using psychotherapy to try to change the sexual orientation of minors.
Senate Bill 1172, signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in late September, affirms statements from all major therapy and counseling associations stating that “reparative” or “conversion” therapy—therapy designed specifically to turn gay people heterosexual—is both ineffective and damaging.
While California adults are free to seek out such harmful treatment, counselors and psychiatrists who try to change the sexual orientation of children can face disciplinary action from their respective licensing bodies, regardless of parental consent.
Survivors forced into reparative therapy during adolescence lobbied for the bill, which is the first of its kind. Ryan Kendall, whose testimony was also included in the Prop. 8 trial, told California legislators that the therapy brought him to the brink of suicide
"In order to stop the therapy that misled my parents into believing that I could somehow be made straight, I was forced to run away from home, surrender myself to the local department of human services, and legally separate myself from my family," Kendall said. "At the age of 16, I had lost everything.”
Some professionals worried that the initial broad language of the bill would make it difficult to explore a patient’s sexuality; in response, a section was added to explicitly allow mental health providers to “facilitate clients’… identity exploration and development” and provide “orientation-neutral” interventions when clients are engaging in unsafe or illegal behavior.
Homosexuality was removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of mental disorders in 1973. In the years since, while anti-gay religious groups have touted the supposed “success” of “ex-gay” therapy, every mainstream association of mental health professionals has rejected the practice. Earlier this year, Dr. Robert Spitzer called a study he had done supporting the notion that people can change their sexual orientation—the only mainstream scientific study that reached those conclusions—his “only regret,” as he issued a formal retraction.
Even the giants of religious “ex-gay” work have been admitting defeat. Earlier this year, Exodus International President Alan Chambers told the Associated Press that the venerable organization will no longer claim to “cure” homosexuality, and will discourage the use of reparative therapy. Exodus will still advise therapy and prayer to remain celibate or be with an understanding opposite-sex partner (what journalist Amanda Marcotte calls the closet-not-cure approach), but it will no longer attempt to do the impossible.
"The potential risks of 'reparative therapy' are great, including depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior, since therapist alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self-hatred already experienced by the patient,” says the official position statement of the American Psychiatric Association. The “ex-ex-gay” community is rife with stories of long-term harm from the ineffective therapy; many survivors were dragged into therapists’ offices by homophobic parents.
The right-wing Liberty Council has filed a lawsuit over the ban, stating that it interferes with parental freedom. Courts have ruled in the past that parental freedom and religious liberty are not valid defenses for parents whose children die from a lack of medical attention, and LGBT advocates are confident that the lawsuit will fail. In the meantime, reparative therapy survivors are hopeful that this bill may protect children from the trauma they suffered at the hands of professionals meant to heal.
Shay O'Reilly is a reporter with Campus Progress. Follow him on Twitter @shaygabriel.