WASHINGTON — The federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration released a report Thursday calling for an end to the practice of “conversion therapy” for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth.
Advocates of conversion therapy argue that gay people can change their sexual orientation with help, which often includes religious efforts. The therapy stems from the once accepted — but now discredited — belief that homosexuality is a mental disorder that can be cured.
SAMHSA’s report concludes that “none of the existing research” supports that premise.
“Directing the child or adolescent to conform to any particular gender expression or identity, or directing parents and guardians to place pressure on the child or adolescent to conform to specific gender expressions and/or identities, is inappropriate and reinforces harmful gender stereotypes,” SAMHSA’s report says.
The report follows the White House’s criticism of the practice in April, in response to an online petition following the death of 17-year-old transgender youth Leelah Alcorn, who died after her parents forced her to attend conversion therapy. Senior adviser Valerie Jarrett said at the time that the administration “supports efforts to ban the use of conversion therapy for minors.”
On Thursday, she told reporters that the administration was pleased to present SAMHSA’s report, which is the first in-depth federal look at conversion therapy.
“It’s not our job to tell parents how to raise their children. But it is our responsibility to provide parents with the scientific evidence necessary in order for them to make the best possible decisions when raising their children,” Jarrett said. “We do strongly believe that young people should be valued for who they are, no matter what they look like, where they’re from, the gender with which they identify or who they love.”
In May, Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) introduced the Therapeutic Fraud Prevention Act, which would classify conversion therapy as a fraudulent practice that would be illegal under the Federal Trade Commission Act. If passed, Lieu’s bill would also ban all advertising that claims the therapy can successfully change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
In a statement Thursday, Lieu said the new report “makes it clear that so-called ‘conversion therapy’ is psychological child abuse — plain and simple.”
SAMHSA recommends a number of steps to end conversion therapy for minors, including reducing discrimination toward LGBT individuals and providing better information and training for behavioral health providers, as well as taking legislative or legal action.
Four states and the District of Columbia have already passed laws banning the practice for minors, and 21 other states have introduced similar legislation, according to the report.
“We recognize that the significant health disparities faced by LGBT youth — in particular, issues related to suicide, depression, substance abuse and homelessness, among many others — often relate to experiences of family rejection due to their sexual orientation, their gender identity or their gender expression,” said Elliot Kennedy, special expert on LGBT affairs at SAMHSA, on Thursday.
Major health organizations have rejected conversion therapy as well, with many concluding that it can cause significant physical and psychological harm.
Read about The Huffington Post’s Gabriel Arana’s experience undergoing this “ex-gay therapy” as a teenager, from his article in The American Prospect in April 2012.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
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