December 12, 2019
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Lawmakers should restrict ineffective, harmful conversion therapy

George Danby | BDN
George Danby | BDN

So-called gay conversion therapy or reparative therapy doesn’t work. Worse, it is based on the damaging premise that being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender is a defect that needs to be fixed. As a result, it often leads to shame, depression, anxiety, drug use and suicide.

There is no rationale for this type of therapy, especially with children.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers is pushing to have Maine join the nine other states that have banned gay conversion therapy for people under 18. Their legislation, LD 912, is scheduled for a public hearing before the Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee at 10 a.m. Wednesday. The bill is sponsored by eight Republicans and two Democrats.

The New Hampshire House last week approved similar legislation that would ban gay conversion therapy for minors in the Granite State.

Leaders of the New Hampshire Log Cabin Republicans, a group of LGBT Republicans and allies, said they were encouraged by the vote.

“Homosexuality is not a condition to be cured or a choice to be ostracized. Young people who are struggling with their sexual orientation need our love, encouragement and support,” they said in a statement.

The nation’s medical and psychological associations have found such treatments to be ineffective — and, many times, harmful. Brian Nesbitt of Texas underwent an exorcism to “cure” his homosexuality. A therapist also suggested he wear a rubber band around his wrist and snap it whenever he had sexual thoughts. Sean Sala, who later joined the Navy, told The Guardian he was so traumatized by months of conversion therapy, during which teenage boys were pressured into saying they had been molested, that he contemplated suicide.

“Reviews of the peer-reviewed literature from multiple professional organizations, including the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatrists, have found no evidence that conversion therapy treatments result in changes in sexual orientation,” a study, published in the Journal of Medical Regulation in 2016, concluded.

“There is evidence, however, suggesting these treatments are harmful,” the researchers added.

This mirrors the findings of an American Psychological Association task force that reviewed decades-worth of research on these types of therapies. “Few studies provided strong evidence that any changes produced in laboratory conditions translated to daily life. Thus, the results of scientifically valid research indicate that it is unlikely that individuals will be able to reduce same-sex attractions or increase other-sex sexual attractions through [sexual orientation change efforts],” the task force wrote in its 2009 report.

The task force also found that these efforts could be harmful. Negative side effects included depression, suicidality, and anxiety, the task force reported.

Given the ineffectiveness of such therapies — and their high potential for harm — these treatments should not be used on children, who cannot consent to their use.

The Maine Christian Civic League strongly opposed LD 912. It suggests children who are sexually abused may turn to same-sex relationships and, therefore, “reparative therapy” could be used to help these children, who the league portrays as suffering from “sexual confusion.”

This is not supported by research. Researchers warn that, because same-sex individuals are more likely to be mistreated than heterosexuals, same-sex behavior may be the cause of the mistreatment, not the result of it. In other words, individuals who are LGBT are abused because of their orientation; they are not LGBT because they were abused.

LD 912 would not ban proven forms of therapy that are used to help children that are abused or to help children understand their sexuality.

LGBT children and young adults need nurturing and supportive families and communities. They don’t need to be told they are confused or damaged and need therapy to become normal.

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