Maryland must join others to ban ‘conversion therapy’
In 2012, Maryland enshrined same-sex marriage in law, a move that embodied respect for fellow LGBT citizens.
Yet in 2017, Maryland still permits so-called “conversion therapy,” a practice that expresses no respect whatsoever for LGBT individuals. Conversion or reparative therapy attempts to eliminate homosexual attraction or transgender identity, although neither is curable: they are not illnesses.
Conversion therapy aims to create an aversion to homosexual or transgender thoughts by associating them with negative things such as vomiting or electric shocks. However, these practices have no substantial research to support their use. Indeed, this unproven therapy hurts the most vulnerable members of the LGBT community: minors in families that shun LGBT identity.
When parents put a child into conversion therapy, they send a message: they reject their child’s sexual or gender identity. Regardless of the parents’ intent, they have coerced their child into a program that treats both homosexuality and transgenderism as destructive mental disorders.
As the Conversion Therapy Survivors statement recounts, “We were diagnosed or counseled by professional therapists, religious leaders, and authors that we were intrinsically broken. We were advised that our natural attractions were caused by something bad … bad parenting, childhood abuse, spiritual attack or some other trauma.”
When our children are told by authority figures in their family and community that their identity is unsound, they may start to believe it. In conversion therapy, their sexuality or gender will be demeaned. If possible, they will be coerced to the ill-fitting “correct” identity. If their identity remains unchanged, they will walk away believing society shuns who they are. It is easy to see how this treatment can hurt minors already in weak social situations.
In contrast, the medical community is virtually unanimous in asserting that sexual and gender identity cannot be “converted” or “repaired.” In turn, medical experts contend that conversion therapy is ineffective and may harm those it “treats.”
In its 2000 position statement on sexual conversion therapy, the American Psychiatric Association declared: “In the last four decades, ‘reparative’ therapists have not produced any rigorous scientific research to substantiate their claims of cure. […] 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.” The APA goes on to oppose any treatment based on the assumption that homosexuality is a mental disorder.
Writing for a coalition of professional associations, the American Psychological Association notes that “the nation’s leading professional medical, health, and mental health organizations do not support efforts to change young people’s sexual orientation through therapy and have raised serious concerns about the potential harm from such efforts.”
In short: conversion therapy does not work. It does, however, reinforce social and familial stigmas against LGBT identity.
And let’s not understate the impact of conversion therapy: A 2012 Gallup poll interviewed 4,195 Marylanders. Gallup’s results confirm that at least 1 in 30 (3.3 percent) Maryland adults are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. We know that younger Marylanders tend towards both LGBT acceptance and LGBT identity. As such, it’s a small step to believe that as many or more Maryland minors are LGBT.
Right now, the state of Maryland is telling all of our LGBT children that — if their parents so desire — their identity can be taken from them.
There is a simple alternative: ban the practice of conversion therapy.
It’s been tried before. In 2014, Baltimore County Delegate John Cardin introduced HB91, which would have made it unprofessional conduct for any medical practitioner to administer “conversion therapy” to a minor. Unfortunately, after an unfavorable report by the Health and Government Operations, Cardin withdrew the bill. Cardin and Equality Maryland claimed that the bill was unnecessary because patients can file complaints with state health occupation boards.
We must do better. Young patients in unsupportive family environments cannot be expected to know how to advocate for themselves or how to file a complaint with a state board.
Sexual and gender conversion therapy has no medical value and may cause undue harm. Five states and the District of Columbia have banned conversion therapy for minors. Maryland must join them.
Aidan Bissell-Siders, Ellicott City