Gay conversion "therapy" elicits strong views in state Senate hearing

Opponents turn to Senate Health Care Committee to stop a ban on treatment meant to turn gay kids straight.
Sen. Jan Angel

Sen. Jan Angel

Marko Liias

Marko Liias John Stang

“My wife was conned into believing that a gay man could be turned straight,” says Klint Kendrick. As a teenager growing up in a religious and conservative household, with two parents in the military, he turned to “conversion therapy” in an attempt to subdue his homosexuality.

“I thought God, my family and my society wanted me to be straight,” he said. Kendrick went on to marry a woman and start a family. Now divorced, with four kids, Kendrick ultimately realized he was gay.

“My ex-wife and my four children,” he said, “are as much a victim of this kind of therapy as I was.”

“Sexual orientation change efforts”— which attempt to turn gay people straight — would be largely banned under a bill making its way through the state Legislature. On Thursday, the Senate Health Care Committee heard a round of emotional testimony about the bill, which would forbid licensed health care providers from performing such treatment on minors.

Supporters of the legislation say the efforts lacks medical merit and can traumatize adolescents. Opponents say that the treatment can be helpful in some cases and that the legislation would trample the rights of parents and patients and infringe on religious freedoms.

Both proponents of the bill and critics derided unethical, abusive treatment methods like ice baths and showing kids pornography. Therapists who testified against the bill distinguished between such practices and their own work.

Leading up the effort behind the legislation is former representative and current Sen. Marko Liias, D-Mukilteo. It passed a House vote last week 94-0. Thursday's hearing offered opponents what could be their last best chance to convince the Senate to stop the bill. With some conservative Republicans wielding influence in the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus, its chances are unclear despite the unanimous House vote.

California and New Jersey have passed similar laws. Both face legal appeals despite court rulings in their favor. The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the California law, but implementation of the conversion treatment ban is on hold while opponents seek a review by the U.S. Supreme Court. 

The bill only applies to licensed health care providers — like doctors and psychotherapists — and would not affect religious practices or non-licensed faith-based counselors. Licensed providers are not prohibited from discussing sexual orientation change therapy, so long as they are not actively performing the treatment.

The American Psychological Association opposes the treatment, saying there is no evidence that it works and that there is some indication that it can harm adults. Ethical constraints have made it difficult to study whether the treatment adversely affects kids. For families concerned about their children’s sexual orientation, the association recommends “affirmative treatment” focused on acceptance and anxiety-reduction.

“Generally none of the proponents of this treatment have ever evaluated it,” says Judith Glassgold, the APA’s associate executive director for public interest. Glassgold chaired a committee for the association in 2009 that issued a report on sexual orientation change efforts. The report said homosexuality is a normal variation on human behavior and advises parents to avoid change efforts.

“People shouldn’t seek out treatments that aren’t proven to be effective,” Glassgold says.

Robin Goodspeed has a different view. A self-described ex-lesbian, who lives in Wyoming, she said she became heterosexual in 2007 after a "life-changing experience." For 20 years, she said, therapists encouraged her to accept her homosexuality. “This bill says that people like me, an ex-homosexual, don’t exist,” she said during her testimony. “This bill says that change is not possible.”

“What if a young person wants to change?” she asked.

The Psychology Association's Glassgold says change efforts aren’t the right choice for people in that situation. “With all due respect to the patient,” she says, “this treatment won’t help them change.”

David Pickup disagrees. A licensed family therapist with practices in California, Pickup says that he experienced homosexual feelings that stemmed from sexual and emotional abuse. “Reparative therapy helped save my life,” he said, using an alternative term for sexual orientation change treatment. Through his practice, he now provides the therapy to kids and adults and he believes there is evidence to prove that it works. “We’re taking away a client's right, these people identify as heterosexual.”


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Comments:

Posted Fri, Feb 21, 7:58 a.m. Inappropriate

For a recent and detailed resource about these laws, check out: youthallies.com/restrictions-conversion-therapy-actually-say/ (called "What to Bans on 'Conversion Therpay' Actually Say?").

The free-speech objections to this law are weak. Under the law, counselors can speak their mind and share their perspectives on any issue (e.g. they can say all kinds of misguided things, by saying, for example, that homosexuality is a sin, that people shouldn't be gay, that people should seek religious counseling to become straight, etc..). However, *when they are practicing therapy,* they can't engage in the *"therapeutic" practice* of actually trying to convert somebody from gay or bi to straight (or straight to gay, etc.) So there are no ideas or perspectives or messages that they can't express, at least not in the constitutional sense; the bill just pertains to actual efforts to change orientation during therapy (including gay-to-straight or straight-to-gay). The fact that some unlawful conduct sometimes occurs through speaking does not mean that it is constitutionally protected. Think of it this way: The bill interferes with free expression to the same extent as malpractice law, which similarly restricts doctors from engaging in dangerous practices (including practices that technically involve speech). Malpractice law does not infringe anybody's constitutional freedom, even when it creates liability for doctors based on something they told a patient. Or think about fraud: You have no constitutional free-speech right to commit fraud, even if you do it largely or entirely by speaking.

Likewise, there is no free-speech right to use your authority as a state-licensed professional to practice medicine or psychology to "cure" something that isn't a disease (and hasn't been considered a disease for decades), particularly when it involves vulnerable youth. - MK (youthallies.com).

Posted Sat, Feb 22, 8:13 p.m. Inappropriate

Just out of curiosity, how would you address the case of someone like Ms. Goodspeed? Would you say that such a desire - to "come out of the closet" as a heterosexual, is illegitimate?


I agree that a lot of cruel damage has been done to gays and lesbians in attempts "convert" them into something that the very essence of their being prevents them from becoming, but in the vast cavalcade of human psychology, there may indeed be a few (albeit very few) people who can only find happiness by becoming heterosexuals. By passing a law that keeps professionals out of the picture, and actually empowers cranks and quacks to pass as "therapists" to such people, aren't we imposing a cruelty on such societal "misfits" as bad as that which was imposed on gays and lesbians generations past?

dbreneman

Posted Sun, Feb 23, 10:09 a.m. Inappropriate

I don't see specific information showing that a therapist would be prevented from helping people that want find a way to be healthy. It does prevent creating programs and advertising homosexual converstion programs, but if a client comes to a therapist and says "I want to be heterosexual" and that is indeed true for them, as opposed to an attempt to mitigate the cultural pressure and religious persecution, and yes I mean persecution, then it's not apparent to me how this would prevent such facilitation assuming the treatment is more or less along the traditional lines of accepted therapeutic modalities.

BrettHill

Posted Mon, Feb 24, 10:16 a.m. Inappropriate

Interesting. I didn't find that clear from the article. Thanks.

(This comment was in reply to Brett Hill. It seems to have landed in the wrong place in the thread.

dbreneman

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