Earlier this month, the governors of Nevada and Connecticut signed laws banning conversion therapy for minors in those states. These follow the signing of a similar law in New Mexico in April. According to the National Center for Lesbian Rights, nine states now ban the practice. The District of Columbia and cities including Seattle, Cincinnati, and several in Florida have enacted similar bans.
If you are not familiar with the practice, conversion therapy (also sometimes known as reparative therapy) involves efforts to change someone’s sexual orientation. The American Psychological Association and other professional mental health groups have strongly disavowed the practice. They note that there is no evidence that the treatment is generally effective, but there is evidence of harm that it can cause.
I was proud to be involved in California’s first-in-the-nation ban on conversion therapy for minors. That law has now survived multiple court challenges. Several other states used California’s language as a model. California defines any effort by a mental health provider to change a child’s sexual orientation as unprofessional conduct. In other words, action can be taken against the provider’s professional license. The law does not restrict the practice for adult clients. It also does not prevent parents from seeking reparative therapy through their religious leaders.
There have been a number of interesting trends as these bans become more common:
- While some express concern that the laws interfere with parental rights, there has been very little mainstream opposition to them. (I believe that concern can be effectively refuted.) Republican governors, who are not typically known as LGBT-friendly, have signed several of the bans into law.
- Reparative therapists still seem to be looking for effective ways to respond that don’t make them look like what they are: Therapists trying to turn gay kids straight, typically failing, and sometimes with disastrous consequences. (Joseph Nicolosi, widely credited with developing conversion therapy, died earlier this year.)
- The psychotherapy professions have often been strongly supportive of these bans. Usually we detest increased external regulation, preferring to govern ourselves through professional ethics codes. But government intervention is appropriate when professional self-governance fails. These bans do us a favor, protecting the reputations of mainstream therapists by making it clear that conversion therapy has no place in the licensed practice of psychotherapy.
When Governor Jerry Brown signed California’s ban in 2012, he said he hoped conversion therapy would be “relegated to the dustbin of quackery.” Each new state and local ban represents progress in that direction.
If you’re interested in learning more about the harms of conversion therapy, Vice has good coverage of the topic. NCLR also created its Born Perfect campaign to help move policy and public understanding.