Maryland must join oth­ers to ban ‘con­ver­sion ther­apy’

Maryland Independent - - Community Forum -

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

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