What is conversion therapy?
Conversion therapy is any attempt to change a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. However, because the practice has come under increasing scrutiny, providers frequently change their terminology to avoid detection. Some of those terms can seem relatively harmless at first glance. Here are a few examples
- Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (SOCE)
- Sexual Attraction Fluidity Exploration in Therapy (SAFE-T)
- Eliminating, reducing or decreasing frequency or intensity of unwanted Same-Sex Attraction (SSA)
- Reparative therapy
- Sexual reorientation efforts
- Ex-gay ministry
- Promoting healthy sexuality
- Addressing sexual addictions and disorders
- Sexuality counseling
- Encouraging relational and sexual wholeness
- Healing sexual brokenness
Proponents of conversion therapy often intentionally conflate the attempted altering of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression with the treatment of an actual condition such as sexual addiction. Some claim they are helping clients explore their “sexual fluidity,” or they emphasize that their clients struggle with “unwanted same-sex attractions” or “gender confusion.”
The harms of conversion therapy
San Francisco State University found that “compared with LGBTQ young people who were not rejected or were only a little rejected by their parents and caregivers because of their gay or transgender identity, highly rejected LGBTQ young people were:
- 8.4x more likely to report having attempted suicide
- 5.9x more likely report high levels of depression
- 3.4x more likely to use illegal drugs
- 3.4x more likely to be at high risk of HIV and STDs
Source: San Francisco State University
- 698,000 LGBTQ adults (ages 18-59) in the U.S. have received conversion therapy, including about 350,000 LGBTQ adults who received treatment as adolescents.
- 20,000 LGBTQ youth (ages 13-17) will receive conversion therapy from a licensed healthcare professional before they reach the age of 18 in the 41 states that currently do not ban the practice.
- 6,000 LGBTQ youth (ages 13-17) who live in states that ban conversion therapy would have received such therapy from a licensed health care professional before age 18 if their state had not banned the practice.
- 57,000 youth (ages 13-17) across all states will receive conversion therapy from religious or spiritual advisors before they reach the age of 18.
Source: UCLA Williams Institute
Statements by National Associations
American Psychological Association:
Affirms that same-sex sexual and romantic attractions, feelings, and behaviors are normal and positive variations of human sexuality regardless of sexual orientation identity; reaffirms its position that homosexuality per se is not a mental disorder and opposes portrayals of sexual minority youths and adults as mentally ill due to their sexual orientation concludes that there is insufficient evidence to support the use of psychological interventions to change sexual orientation; encourages mental health professionals to avoid misrepresenting the efficacy of sexual orientation change efforts by promoting or promising change in sexual orientation when providing assistance to individuals distressed by their own or others’ sexual orientation…
American Psychiatric Association:
… In 1997 APA produced a fact sheet on homosexual and bisexual issues, which states that “there is no published scientific evidence supporting the efficacy of “reparative therapy” as a treatment to change one’s sexual orientation.”
The potential risks of “reparative therapy” are great and include depression, anxiety, and self-destructive behavior, since therapist alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self-hatred already experienced by the patient. Many patients who have undergone “reparative therapy” relate that they were inaccurately told that homosexuals are lonely, unhappy individuals who never achieve acceptance or satisfaction. The possibility that the person might achieve happiness and satisfying interpersonal relationships as a gay man or lesbian are not presented, nor are alternative approaches to dealing with the effects of societal stigmatization discussed…
Therefore, APA opposes any psychiatric treatment, such as “reparative” or “conversion” therapy, that is based on the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder or is based on the a priori assumption that the patient should change his or her homosexual orientation.
List of US organizations that have denounced conversion therapy:
- American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
- American Academy of Pediatrics
- American Academy of Physician Assistants
- American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy
- American Association of School Administrators
- American Associations of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapist
- American College of Physicians
- American Counseling Association
- American Federation of Teachers
- American Medical Association
- American Osteopathic Association
- American Psychiatric Association
- American Psychoanalytic Association
- American Psychological Association
- American School Counselor Association
- American School Health Association
- Interfaith Alliance Foundation
- National Association of School Psychologists
- National Association of Secondary School Principals
- National Association of Social Workers
- National Education Association
- School Social Work Association on America
- United Nations High Commissioner of Human Rights
- World Health Organization
- And many more…
Protecting LGBTQ+ Youth From Conversion Therapy
The following states and municipalities have passed laws protecting LGBTQ+ youth from conversion therapy:
- California (2012)
- New Jersey (2013)
- Illinois (2015)
- Oregon (2015)
- Vermont (2016)
- Connecticut (2017)
- Nevada (2017)
- New Mexico (2017)
- Rhode Island (2017)
- Washington State (2018)
- Maryland (2018)
- Hawaii (2018)
- New Hampshire (2018)
- Maryland (2018)
*Washington D.C., although not a state, passed an ordinance in 2014 protecting LGBTQ+ youth from conversion therapy.
*New York State, has not passed a law through in its legislature, however, Governor Cuomo signed an executive order that protects youth from conversion therapy by prohibiting public and private health care insurers from covering the practice in the state. Additionally, the order prohibits various mental health facilities across the state from conducting the practice on minors. This order went into effect on April 27, 2016
How to speak about conversion therapy in the media
When speaking about laws and legislation, avoid using the words ‘ban’ or ‘banning.’ Instead use the words ‘protect’ or ‘protections.’ For example:
- Bad example: “As of 2018, 14 states have passed laws banning conversion therapy for minors by licensed practitioners”
- Good example: “As of 2018, 14 states have passed laws protecting LGBTQ+ youth from conversion therapy by licensed practitioners”
- Cisgender: Describes a person whose gender identity aligns with the sex assigned to them at birth.
- Gender Dysphoria: Clinically significant distress caused when a person’s sex assigned at birth is not aligned with their gender identity.
- Gender Expression: External manifestation of one’s gender identity, usually expressed through behaviors, mannerisms, dress, etc.
- Gender Identity: One’s innermost sense of self as male, female, a blend of both or neither. A person’s gender identity can be the same or different from their sex assigned at birth.
- Gender non-conforming (GNC): Describes a person who does not subscribe to society’s traditional expectations of gender expression or gender roles.
- Queer: Often used interchangeably with “LGBTQ.”
- Sexual Orientation: An inherent or immutable enduring emotional, romantic or sexual attraction to other people.
- Transgender: Describes people whose gender identity and/or gender expression is different from cultural expectations based on the sex they were assigned at birth. Being transgender does not imply any specific sexual orientation.
GLAAD has partnered with Born Perfect in its efforts to support conversion therapy survivors and those laws that will protect LGBTQ youth. To show your support for conversion therapy survivors, click here to join Born Perfect.