Senate Democrats Want Their Colleagues to Condemn ‘Conversion Therapy’

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Senate Democrats Want Their Colleagues to Condemn ‘Conversion Therapy’

Martha Kempner

Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) introduced a resolution last week condemning conversion therapy and urging states to make it illegal to subject minors to such “treatment.”

Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) introduced a resolution last week condemning “conversion therapy” and urging states to make it illegal to subject minors to such “treatment.”

So-called conversion therapy, also known as reparative therapy, is designed to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. All major medical organizations oppose the practice, a number of states—including Booker’s home state of New Jersey—have passed legislation banning the practice for minors, and the White House recently came out against it.

The resolution, which does not yet have any Republican support, aims to put the Senate’s disapproval of the practice on record and bolster state efforts to ban the deeply controversial therapy.

All 23 current co-sponsors caucus with Senate Democrats.

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Entitled, “Stop Harming Our Kids Resolution of 2015,” the resolution notes that “conversion therapy” is rooted in the false notion that those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender are suffering from a mental illness and need to be cured. It says “the development of all children and adolescents into healthy and productive adults is a priority of the United States and ending prejudice and injustice based on sexual orientation and gender nonconformity is a human rights issue.”

“Conversion therapy” runs counter to this goal.

“All people, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, deserve to be treated with compassion and respect,” Booker said in a statement. “This resolution seeks to unite members of the Senate around the idea that this shameful practice has no place in our society.”

Conversion therapy became popular in the 1970s and ’80s after mainstream mental health organizations declared that homosexuality was not a mental illness and instead of attempting to change a patient’s sexual orientation, therapists should help them understand it and cope in a sometimes unfriendly society, as Rewire has reported.

Some therapists continued practices designed to change sexual orientation and a number of religious organizations started ministries dedicated to reparative therapy. The programs varied from independent bible study to aversion therapy, which involved administering electric shocks every time a patient became aroused by gay pornography.

“Practitioners often use shame, rejection, and psychological abuse. … Those that experience this traumatizing practice often become depressed and experience low self-esteem,” Booker and Brown said in a joint statement. “In some cases these individuals engage in substance abuse and even commit suicide.”

Many experts and lawmakers in recent years have come out against this type of therapy. The American Psychological Association in 2009 released a study that found reparative therapy to be ineffectual and potentially harmful.

Most major medical organizations, including the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, agree and have announced opposition to the practice.

California, New Jersey, Oregon, and the District of Columbia have passed laws banning the practice for minors, even with parental permission. Anti-conversion therapy laws in New Jersey and California were challenged in court and both were found to be constitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case against either law, leaving the laws in place.

The White House in April posted a letter to its website condemning the practice and encouraging states to enact similar bans. White House advisor Valerie Jarrett noted that such laws are sometimes dedicated to Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teen who killed herself after a therapist tried to make her identify as a boy.

“It’s tragic, but I will tell you, unfortunately, she has lots of company,” Jarrett told the New York Times. “It’s not the story of one young person, it’s the story of countless young people who have been subjected to this.”