A federal government report released Thursday calls for an end to the controversial practice of so-called conversion therapy, which is opposed by all major medical organizations and has been denounced by the Obama administration.
Sometimes referred to as “reparative therapy,” conversion therapy aims to change sexual orientation or gender identity.
The new report, Ending Conversion Therapy: Supporting and Affirming LGBTQ Youth, was released by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), and is based on the consensus statement reached in July by a panel of the American Psychological Association.
The report charges that same-gender sexual orientation and variations in gender identity and expression are “part of the normal spectrum of human diversity and do not constitute a mental disorder.” It goes on to say that “interventions aimed at a fixed outcome, such as gender conformity or heterosexual orientation…are coercive, can be harmful, and should not be part of the behavioral health treatment.”
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Conversion therapy can include anything from Bible study to forced heterosexual dating to aversion therapy, in which patients are shown homosexual erotica and shocked every time they display arousal. It became popular in the late-1970s and ’80s, even as mainstream medical organizations stopped viewing homosexuality as a mental illness and began to, instead, help patients accept their sexual orientation and live in a sometimes hostile world.
In the 1990s and early 2000s, conversion therapy became synonymous with the “ex-gay” movement led by religious ministries that promised men they could “pray away the gay.” Many of these ministries were plagued by scandals in which leaders were either caught or admitted to having gay relationships while they condemned the LGBTQ community, as Rewire has reported.
Many of the movement’s leaders have apologized to the gay community and many of the ministries have shut their doors.
The APA released a report in 2009 that reviewed decades of research and found that conversion therapy was not only ineffective, it was potentially harmful. Patients exposed to this kind of therapy experienced loss of sexual feelings, depression, anxiety, and thoughts of suicide.
Since the report, a number of states, including New Jersey and California, have banned conversion therapy for minors.
The Obama administration in April released a report condemning the practice and urging more states to pass laws protecting young people from conversion therapy. Senators Corey Booker (D-NJ) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) also took a stand against conversion therapy for young people in the form of a resolution in May that urged their Senate colleagues to condemn the practice.
Thursday’s report echoes these condemnations and tries to help parents find a better option. “When dealing with a sensitive topic such as gender identity or sexual orientation in young people, it is essential that families, educators, caregivers, and providers seek the best available information and advice,” SAMHSA Acting Administrator Kana Enomoto, said in a statement. “SAMHSA’s report provides this information, as well as resources young people, families and others can use to promote healthy development for all youth.”