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Topics In the News
California Bill Banning "Conversion Therapy" for Minors Advances
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 06/28/12
Last updated on: 06/28/12
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Ryan Kendall discusses his recovery from the shattering effects of "conversion therapy" on CNN.

On June 27, 2012, the California Assembly Business, Professions, and Consumer Protection Committee approved on a 5-2 vote Senate Bill 1172, which prohibits mental health professionals from subjecting minors to therapies intended to change sexual orientation. On May 30, the bill, which was authored by Senator Ted Lieu, was passed by the Senate on a 23-13 vote, and now heads to the Assembly floor.

If approved by the Assembly and signed by the Governor, Senate Bill 1172 would make California the first state in the nation to ban licensed mental health professionals from engaging in sexual orientation change efforts of any kind for a minor patient, regardless of a parent's willingness or desire to authorize participation in such programs.

The bill would not prohibit conversion therapy for adults, but it would require that they be warned of its unlikelihood of success and its potential harms.

As Senator Lieu said, "Being lesbian or gay or bisexual is not a disease or mental disorder for the same reason that being a heterosexual is not a disease or a mental disorder. The medical community is unanimous in stating that homosexuality is not a medical condition."

At the hearing held on June 27, Ryan Kendall, who testified in the Perry v. Brown legal challenge to Proposition 8, described his experience with conversion therapy.

As reported by Tanya Domi at The New Civil Rights Movement, Kendall told the Committee: "As a young teen, the anti-gay practice of so-called conversion therapy destroyed my life and tore apart my family. 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. Though I lived in Colorado, the conversion therapist my family relied on practiced out of Southern California.

"At the age of 16, I had lost everything. My family and my faith had rejected me, and the damaging messages of conversion therapy, coupled with this rejection, drove me to the brink of suicide. For the next decade I struggled with depression, periods of homelessness, and drug abuse."

Now a student at Columbia University, Kendall added, "I am here today because as a young teenager I dreamed that one day adults would pass legislation to protect people like me. I am here because youth subjected to these discredited therapies deserve a voice in the room. They are the ones living the trauma and horror that conversion therapy inflicts on people for no reason, with no evidence, merely because of who they are. If any of these youth are listening, they should know that there is nothing wrong with them; they are perfect, beautiful, and deserving of love.

"It took me a decade to rebuild my life, but we know that too many people are not so fortunate. Conversion therapy inflicts harm by sending the message that there is something defective or immoral about people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. It justifies discrimination by arguing that we can and should change and do not deserve any legal protections. It misleads families into believing that there is something wrong with their child or their loved one. Tragically, it harms the most vulnerable among us--children. This must stop."

Formal attempts to change a person's sexual orientation are sometimes included under the umbrella term "reparative therapy." The term includes the attempts of Christian transformational ministries to use prayer, religious conversion, individual therapy sessions, and group counseling, to change a person's sexual orientation, as well as attempts by secular psychologists and psychotherapists to "cure" homosexuality. The bill under consideration in the California legislature covers only secular mental health professionals, not religious practitioners.

The reparative therapy movement is rooted in the work of 1960s psychologists such as Irving Bieber and Charles Socarides, who claimed that homosexuality was both pathological and susceptible to change. When their position was repudiated by the 1973 decision of the American Psychiatric Association to remove homosexuality from the category of "illness," they launched a counter-offensive against the views of the psychological and psychiatric establishment.

In 1992, the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) was established. Led by Joseph Nicolosi (who "treated" Ryan Kendall) and Charles Socarides, and funded largely by right-wing religious and political organizations, NARTH is self-described as "a non-profit, educational organization dedicated to affirming a complementary, male-female model of gender and sexuality." It essentially espouses the view of homosexuality that was dominant in the 1950s and 1960s: that a homosexual "preference" results from a developmental problem, especially a child's failure to identify properly with adult figures of the same gender.

Sexual orientation change efforts pose serious health risks, including depression, shame, decreased self-esteem, social withdrawal, substance abuse, self-harm, and suicide. For minors, who are often subjected to these practices at the insistence of misled parents who either do not know or do not believe that the practice is harmful, the risks of long-term mental and physical health consequences are particularly severe.

The American Psychiatric Association has characterized reparative therapy as dangerously misguided, issuing a statement saying that "the potential risks of 'reparative therapy' are great, including depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior, since the therapist's alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self-hatred already experienced by the patient."

After the committee vote on June 27, Equality California Board President Clarissa Filgioun said that "Too many young people have taken their own lives or suffered lifelong harm after being told, falsely, by a therapist or counselor that who they are and who they love is wrong, sick or the result of personal or moral failure. It's outrageous that state licensed therapists in California continue engage in this discredited, damaging and discriminatory practice that has been uniformly rejected by medical science and it's time for the legislature to put a stop to this psychological abuse."

Kate Kendell, Executive Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, "The time is long overdue for the legislature to take action against the psychological abuse of young people perpetrated by so-called 'reparative therapists.' These practices have no basis in science or medicine, but the harms they inflict on young people are all too real -- anxiety, depression, and self-destructive behavior. This bill will quite literally save lives. California youth deserve protection from shame and stigmatization disguised as therapy."

Senate Bill 1172 is supported by the National Association of Social Workers, California Chapter and the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, California Division. In addition, four professional associations that previously opposed the bill, including the California Psychological Association, the California Psychiatric Association, the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists and the California Association of Licensed Professional Clinical Counselors, withdrew their opposition during the committee hearing based on agreed upon amendments that will be made on the Assembly floor.

In June 2011, Ryan Kendall spoke with Anderson Cooper about his experience with reparative therapy.

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