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Topics In the News
 
Governor Brown Signs Reparative Therapy Bill into Law
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 09/30/12
Last updated on: 09/30/12
 
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On September 29, 2012, Governor Jerry Brown of California signed into law a bill that prohibits "reparative therapy" for minors in the golden state. The bill, which covers only state-licensed therapists, has been stripped-down from the original version so it is difficult to be too enthusiastic about it, but it sends an important message about the dangers of reparative therapy.

Wyatt Buchanan on the San Francisco Chronicle website SFGate reports that "California has become the first state in the country to ban controversial therapy practices that attempt to change the sexual orientation of minors after Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill to outlaw them Saturday."

In a statement released to the Chronicle, Governor Brown said, "This bill bans non-scientific 'therapies' that have driven young people to depression and suicide. These practices have no basis in science or medicine and they will now be relegated to the dustbin of quackery."

In its original version, which I discussed here, the bill, introduced by Senator Ted Lieu, would have banned California 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, and would have required that adults seeking conversion therapy be warned of its unlikelihood of success and its potential harms.

In addition, the original version would have imposed fines of $5,000 or "actual damages, or statutory damages" if the client later determined that he or she had been harmed by the therapy or if the therapist had violated the ban.

However, the bill that has become law is considerably weaker. It maintains the ban on reparative therapy for minors, but does not require a consent form for adults. In lieu of fines or damages, it merely exposes licensed therapists to "discipline by the licensing entity for that mental health provider."

Moreover, the bill covers only state-licensed therapists, not clergy, "ex-gay groups," or self-anointed counselors or "life coaches."

Although the law is weaker than it should be, it may nevertheless have significant symbolic value for signaling the state's disapproval of reparative therapy.

Joe Jervis at JoeMyGod reproduces reactions from leading glbtq organizations to the news that Governor Brown has signed the bill into law.

For example, the National Center for Lesbian Rights issued a statement saying that "Governor Brown has sent a powerful message of affirmation and support to LGBT youth and their families. This law will ensure that state-licensed therapists can no longer abuse their power to harm LGBT youth and propagate the dangerous and deadly lie that sexual orientation is an illness or disorder that can be 'cured.'"

Equality California issued a statement thanking Senator Ted Lieu and Governor Brown "for their efforts in making California a leader in banning this deceptive and harmful practice."

Wayne Besen of Truth Wins Out said, "This is a historic day that protects LGBT youth from child abuse disguised as genuine therapy. We thank Gov. Brown for signing legislation that can serve as a model for similar bills across the nation."

The Human Rights Campaign expressed gratitude "to Governor Brown for standing with California's children. LGBT youth will now be protected from a practice that has not only been debunked as junk science, but has been proven to have drastically negative effects on their well-being."

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 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.

In June 2011, Ryan Kendall, a young man who subsequently testified in favor of the bill banning reparative therapy for minors, spoke with Anderson Cooper about his experience with reparative therapy.

 
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