*This section was created as a collaboration between GLAAD and Born Perfect
Anti-LGBTQ activists have falsely claimed for years that a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity is a choice and changeable — but only for LGBTQ people. They often falsely claim that LGBTQ identities are not real, but rather an expression of mental illness or an emotional disorder that can be “cured” through psychological or religious intervention. Anti-LGBTQ activists claim that being attracted to people of the same sex or being transgender are curable conditions, and therefore people attracted to the same sex or are transgender do not need or deserve equal treatment under the law or protection from discrimination.
Programs that claim to change a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression, known as “conversion therapy,” have been widely condemned. In 2013, notorious “ex-gay” ministry Exodus International closed its doors, issuing an apology for the harm done by its programs. Since then, 20 U.S. states have banned the practice (for minors only, in some instances). But it is important to note that despite condemnation and refutation from all major medical, psychiatric, and psychological organizations, these harmful and abusive practices continue.”
Some practitioners of conversion therapy are licensed mental health professionals who exploit their credentials to take advantage of vulnerable families and youth. Others are affiliated with religious organizations and may frame their abusive practices as “pastoral care” rather than psychology. These organizations often target parents and LGBTQ people on social media.
Terminology for coverage of the topic
In reporting, the terms “conversion therapy” or “reparative therapy” should be placed in quotation marks, paired with phrases such as “so-called,” or avoided altogether, as the terms are most often used to insinuate that people attracted to the same sex, or who are transgender, are “disordered” or “broken” and need to be “changed” or “repaired.” Avoid “gay conversion therapy.” It is important to pair the term with factual descriptions such as: “‘conversion therapy,’ a widely discredited practice” or “‘conversion therapy,” a debunked practice.” It is also usually best simply to describe the actions and motivations of those who seek to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
When covering so-called “conversion therapy,” it is important to include the harms associated with the practice and to state the fact that all major medical, psychiatric, and psychological organizations including the American Medical Association and American Psychological Association condemn the practice and, as of February 2022, 20 states have enacted bans on the practice. (See below for more information).
Legally banning the use of so-called “conversion therapy” practices on minors
As of February 2022, at least 20 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and more than 100 municipalities have banned this harmful practice on anyone under 18 years of age. In December 2021, Canada and France also banned the discredited practice.
Many anti-LGBTQ activists claim that they “help people who want to live their lives in accordance with their religious beliefs,” and that they “only offer their programs for people who want to change.” However, many participants in sexual orientation and gender identity conversion programs are youth who do not enroll in the programs of their own free will, but who are forced into such programs by parents who have been told by religious leaders or others that they must change their child.
Every major medical, psychiatric, and psychological organization opposes so-called “conversion therapy” practices
Since 1998, the American Psychiatric Association has opposed conversion therapy. The American Psychiatric Association reiterated its stance again in a 2020 position statement: “Efforts to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender expression have been shown to be harmful and potentially deadly.”
The American Psychological Association (APA) adopted its first resolution discouraging efforts to change people’s sexual orientation in 1997 and a second in 2009, accompanied by a landmark report on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation. Following a comprehensive analysis of peer-reviewed research on what the APA labeled “sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE)” the APA “concluded that efforts to change sexual orientation are unlikely to be successful and involve some risk of harm, contrary to the claims of SOCE practitioners and advocates.” The APA’s governing body adopted the report’s recommendations by an overwhelming 125-4 vote.
In 2021, the American Psychological Association condemned the so-called “treatment” of transgender or nonbinary people, saying: “There is a growing body of research that shows that transgender or nonbinary gender identities are normal variations in human expression of gender. Attempts to force people to conform with rigid gender identities can be harmful to their mental health and well-being.”
American College of Pediatrics
Note that the American Academy of Pediatrics is the country’s leading professional organization committed to the optimal physical, mental, and social health and well-being for all children and young adults. The American Academy of Pediatrics stated in 1993 that: “Therapy directed at specifically changing sexual orientation is contraindicated, since it can provoke guilt and anxiety while having little or no potential for achieving changes in orientation.”
Do not confuse the American Academy of Pediatrics with the “American College of Pediatricians,” which is an anti-LGBTQ activist organization, not a reputable medical entity. The “American College of Pediatricians” has been deemed a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Any story about so-called “conversion therapy” programs should include the perspective of those who survived it and the unanimous view of professional medical and mental health professionals like the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association. For each “success story” featured by “conversion therapy” activists, there are hundreds of LGBTQ people who have gone through the programs and have suffered trauma, depression, even suicidal thoughts or actions. Research by the Wiliams Institute found that lesbian, gay, and bisexual people who experienced conversion therapy were almost twice as likely to think about and attempt suicide when compared to their peers who did not undergo these practices.
Formal and informal networks have been created to provide support and healing for those who have been harmed by conversion therapy practices. The organization Born Perfect organizes survivors and legal experts to advocate against these harmful practices.
If media must interview a practitioner, reporters should vet and report their credentials as a mental health professional or therapist (or the lack thereof), and investigate the groups they represent, including connections to and funding from anti-LGBTQ activists. A history of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, behavior, and advocacy should also be included in reports. It should also be noted that “all major medical, psychiatric, and psychological organizations including the American Medical Association and American Psychological Association condemn the practice and, as of February 2022, 20 states have enacted bans on the practice.”
Please reach out to the below organizations — or GLAAD (firstname.lastname@example.org) — to learn more and connect with spokespeople: