By Alex DiBranco, SIECUS Intern
Conversion or “ex-gay” therapy continues to come under fire, this time in Michigan, where House Bill (HB) 5703 has been introduced by Representative Adam Zemke (D-Ann Arbor) to ban “sexual orientation change efforts” for minors. While conversion therapy is not a widespread practice across the state, supporters of HB 5703 indicate that state-sanctioned exposure of a single child to this type of therapy cannot be accepted. Introduced on July 16, 2014, the bill was referred to the Committee on Health Policy where it awaits action.
If HB 5703 advances in Michigan, the state would join California and New Jersey, in banning conversion therapy for minors. Conversion, also called reparative, therapy for minors is a thoroughly discredited practice that has no effect on changing sexual orientation, but does have negative psychological effects on individuals. A 2009 report by the American Psychological Association (APA) detailed the mental health problems this therapy can cause, including depressive, anxious, and suicidal symptoms. Survivors of ex-gay therapy, such as 29-year-old Michigan native Patrick McAlvey (who began conversion therapy at age 11), have spoken out about the detrimental influence of this childhood trauma on their lives and healthy sexuality.
Both California’s and New Jersey’s laws survived lawsuits from ex-gay therapy proponents such as the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), who argue that the law prohibits them from respecting clients’ wishes. New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie initially expressed qualms about signing his state’s bill, but determined that regardless of parental preferences, children should be protected from a therapy with severe negative psychological consequences and no evidence of benefits or effectiveness. California state senator, Ted Lieu, lead sponsor of the state’s anti-conversion therapy bill, bluntly called the practice “psychological child abuse.”
Since the 1970s, the mental health community has evolved in its understanding of sexual orientation, notably the APA’s declassification of homosexuality as a psychological disorder in 1973. The pseudoscientific ex-gay movement, which presents itself as having a more “compassionate” antigay stance, has suffered severe setbacks, with the most well known national advocacy organization, Exodus International, closing its doors—with an apology to those it has harmed—in June 2013. However, other organizations hastened to fill the gap left by Exodus International’s disbanding, including the Christian Right think tank, the Family Research Council(FRC) and the Exodus breakaway Restored Hope Network.
Despite setbacks for ex-gay groups, constant vigilance by LGBT advocates and legislation like that introduced in Michigan remains necessary, given conversion therapy’s tenacious foothold around the nation. In June 2014, the Texas GOP adopted an anti-LGBT party platformthat “recognize[s] the legitimacy and value of counseling which offers reparative therapy and treatment to patients who are seeking escape from the homosexual lifestyle.” Last year in Maryland, promotion of ex-gay therapy was discovered in a Maryland middle school’s health curriculum, in the form of the film Acception. Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX) continue to appear on school grounds, disseminating harmful misinformation about same-sex attraction to vulnerable teens.
Jonathan Oosting, “Gay 'conversion therapy' for minors would be banned in Michigan under new bill,“ Michigan Live, July 25, 2014, accessed August 4, 2014, http://www.mlive.com/lansing-news/index.ssf/2014/07/gay_conversion_therapy_for_min.html.
Ike, Emily, “California Bans “Reparative” Gay-Conversion Therapies,” SIECUS, accessed August 4, 2014, http://www.siecus.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=Feature.showFeature&featureid=2228&pageid=483&parentid=478.
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Dan Peltier, “The Significance of ‘Ex-Gay Pride Month’,” Political Research Associates, July 23, 2013, accessed August 4, 2014, http://www.politicalresearch.org/2013/07/23/the-significance-of-ex-gay-pride-month/.
“Even As Exodus International Closes, “Ex-Gay” Movement Marches On,” Political Research Associates, June 21, 2013, accessed August 4, 2014, http://www.politicalresearch.org/2013/06/21/even-as-exodus-international-closes-ex-gay-movement-marches-on/.
“Texas GOP Adopts ‘Vile’ ‘Ex-Gay’ Platform.” The Advocate, June 9, 2014, accessed August 5, 2014, http://www.advocate.com/ex-gay/2014/06/09/texas-gop-adopts-vile-ex-gay-platform.
Isabella Joslin, “Maryland: Stealth ‘Reparative Therapy’ Video Pulled from School Curriculum.” SIECUS, accessed August 4, 2014, http://www.siecus.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=Feature.showFeature&featureid=2262&pageid=1352&parentid=478.
Daniel Rubin-Marx, “Maryland: ‘Ex-Gay’ Group Caught in MontCo Flyer Flap,” SIECUS, accessed August 4, 2014, http://www.siecus.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=Feature.showFeature&featureID=2189.