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Views & Voices

Reparative therapy: ‘It is shocking that we are still shocking people!’

Sunday, February 10, 2013
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It is shocking that we are still shocking people!

Forty years ago, in 1973, the American Psychiatric Association announced that homosexuality was not a mental illness. “Conversion or Reparative therapy” has been rejected by the World Health Organization, the American Psychological Association and almost every other professional therapeutic group in America to date.

When a medication is harmful, we pull it off the market, yet we allow a so-called therapeutic practice that we know is harmful to be used on minors. There is something very wrong here.

Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance, Calif.) sponsored California’s Senate Bill 1172 that was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown last year. The law would officially ban California Licensed Mental Health Professionals from practicing “reparative therapy,” which attempts to change the sexual orientation and/or gender identity of a minor.

There are dreadful consequences for children who are often subjected to these practices at the insistence of misled parents who either do not know any better or do not believe that the practices are harmful.

While this law is certainly a step in the right direction, it is weak in that it only covers state-licensed therapists.  Many clergy, “ex-gay groups,” and other untrained and unlicensed counselors sell snake oil to parents who unknowingly subject their LGBTQ children to dangerous treatment that is unnecessary and not effective.

Sexual orientation change efforts cause serious health risks, including depression, social withdrawal, substance abuse, self-harm, and suicide. So, why do we allow state licensed, trained mental health professionals to practice an unsafe treatment for a disorder that does not exist?

Why don’t we embrace these families and support parents in understanding and loving their kids regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity?

We should be educating parents and youth about healthy relationships regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. The choice that we should be making is not whether it is ethical to emotionally and at times physically abuse youth so they will “choose” to act heterosexual, but how to support equality so all people can live authentically.

Our society sends such a strong message that the only option is heterosexuality when in reality human sexuality is a spectrum. There are a slew of late-to-life lesbians and gay men who realized or accepted they were gay after marriages with children. Some were blinded by socialization, others were tortured by stigma and abuse.

Homophobia is ingrained in our society and those messages are so powerful that they often lead people astray from their true identity.

After many years of marriages to men, with six children between us, my partner and I realized we were lesbians and in love.  We left 17 year marriages, blended our families and lost our careers, but we wrote our story, From Privilege to PRIDE: Love is the Road.

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We are lucky in a way, because have lived on both sides of heterosexual privilege and know very clearly the difference.

Too often, a person who identifies as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender finds it impossible to ever truly feel good about who they are or who they love because they cannot overcome all the overwhelming negative messages of rejection from the people who should love them unconditionally – their family.

This truth is echoed in the words of a young man who tragically and eloquently described the experience of being rejected by his family in his “It Gets Better” video.

He stated “My anxiety, depression, self-loathing, and suicidal thoughts spiked. . . .I was being taught that the inherent, very essence of my being was unattainable and unacceptable. My parents told me that among other things I was disgusting, perverted, unnatural and damned to hell. . . .I know how it feels to live in a world of government-sanctioned homophobia, but I refuse to be treated as a second class citizen.” EricJames Borges completed suicide a few months later at the age of 19.

By allowing the practice of reparative therapy to continue, we protect and even sanction it under the guise of religious freedom, and it’s time we open our eyes and see this practice for what it is – barbaric, inhumane, and ultimately ineffective.

No one has ever been cured of homosexuality through reparative therapy, nor should they.

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