Utah plans to become the latest state to ban the practice of subjecting minors to anti-LGBT conversion therapy. Liam Glen writes on the need for the rest of the nation to take the same steps.
Utah Governor Gary Herbert has announced support for a ban on so-called conversion therapy for minors. These pseudoscientific treatments seek to change gays and bisexuals’ sexual orientation or transgender persons’ gender identity.
The deal that ushered in this announcement is an amazing achievement for the socially conservative state, where politics is dominated by the Church of Latter Day Saints. Utah will be the nineteenth American state to adopt such a law and the first red state to do so.
As advances in LGBT rights continue, these laws will become increasingly common. They are a necessary step to ensure the health and wellbeing of all minors, and given conversion therapy’s complete lack of value, further regulation should be on the table.
Inhumane and Ineffective
Conversion therapy takes a variety of forms. Sometimes a licensed therapist may try to use psychotherapeutic methods to force transgender youth to identify with their assigned sex. Sometimes a pastor may say that being around horses will make gay men straight. The most infamous treatment – electroshock – is rare, but not unheard of.
No matter the method, or the qualifications of the person performing it, the vast majority of medical and psychological professionals condemn conversion therapy. Recently, the American Medical Association has advocated for its illegalization.
Sexual orientation and gender identity are complex issues whose exact causes are yet unknown. But the evidence at our disposal shows that any active attempt to change them is destined to end in failure.
Furthermore, these failed attempts have real consequences. Even if the exact methods used in therapy are not abusive in and of themselves, it breeds a mindset among subjects to view themselves as flawed and inadequate because of factors beyond their control.
Because of the possible harm from this, conversion therapy has been condemned by groups such as the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Industry Built on Lies
The principle that minors should not be subjected to such harmful treatments is a sound one, and the banning of the practice in Utah is a great achievement. But this may not be the be-all and end-all of the matter.
In most cases, adults are still allowed to partake in conversion therapy. However, some governments, such as that of Victoria, Australia, have instituted an absolute ban.
This inevitably comes with concerns over civil liberties. Were it possible for people to easily change their sexual orientation or gender identity, it would certainly be their prerogative to do so. But given the shaky scientific basis of these treatments, there should at least be a question of whether practitioners can exploit subjects’ self-loathing to charge them money for a fraudulent practice.
In 2016, the New Jersey Superior Court case Ferguson v. JONAH ruled that conversion therapy counts as consumer fraud. This principle could end the practice in most of its forms.
But from a legal standpoint, things are not always so simple. The precedent of Ferguson v. JONAH has yet to be widely repeated, and New York City recently repealed its ban on conversion therapy for adults over concerns about its constitutionality. Any regulations must come with these factors in mind.
In any case, there is no serious objection to the fact that conversion therapy is an abhorrent practice, and attempts to limit its use are certainly warranted. But we must also remember that it is merely the symptom of a wider problem.
So long as homophobia and transphobia remain extant, these types of practices will continue. It is only in a fully tolerant society that there will be no demand for conversion therapy or anything of its sort.