By Kassel Franco Garibay
Every single person that identifies as LGBTQ has a different story. These stories all tend to include a process of coming to terms with the fact that they are not heterosexual. These stories range from happy and liberating to downright tragic. Sometimes, this process is complicated when LGBTQ folks are forced to undergo conversion therapy.
A recent study by the Williams Institute, a think tank in UCLA, has shown that around 700,000 adults in the United States have undergone some kind of conversion therapy. Even though nowadays “reparative therapy” is not as violent and physically aggressive as it used to be, it is one of the most detrimental practices that continues to be legal in the majority of U.S. states. Conversion therapy has no proven benefits and is based on the argument that any sexuality other than heterosexual is a mental disorder. This labeling of homosexuality as inherently wrong only adds an unnecessary level of toxicity to the process LGBTQ people have to go through to live openly, honestly and true to who they are.
Last month, House Republicans in New Hampshire defeated bills that would ban gay conversion therapy on minors. The news spread throughout the country, prompting outcry at the fact that this practice continues to be legal in 41 states in the U.S. On Thursday, Feb. 8, House lawmakers revisited the vote and successfully passed a bill to ban conversion therapy for LGBTQ youth. The bill passed by eight votes. While it is an important step in the right direction, it should be stressed that 171 people voted against banning an abusive practice targeted to already-vulnerable young people.
The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) had homosexuality listed as a mental disease until 1973. However, the latest edition of the DSM released in 2013 still lists gender dysphoria as an anomalous medical condition.
Prior to the 1980s, gay conversion therapy involved hormonal treatments, chemical castration, electric shots to the genitals, masturbatory reconditioning (which is as awful as it sounds) and even ice-pick lobotomies. Not all of these practices, as described by Sam Brinton in his New York Times opinions article, have completely disappeared. Conversion therapy is designed to make the “patients” associate homoerotic and homoromantic images with pain and revulsion. Nowadays, most therapists use psychoanalytic therapy, prayers and social skills training to attempt to convert the patients; according to Brinton, he was told he was an abomination, that he was the only gay person in the world. This is exactly what could lead an LGBTQ teen to commit suicide.
Conversion therapy is not a mainstream psychological treatment, which means there are no standards whatsoever that regulate this procedure. The psychologists are free to act in whatever way they see fit to “cure” their patients.
The recent decision in New Hampshire is a great step forward, but it does not mean that this issue is resolved. Still, 41 states do not consider the torture of queer youths to be worth making laws, or even medical regulations, over. Conversion therapy needs to become part of a national conversation about the chronic abuse of queer children and teens in the United States.
Kassel is a sophomore International Relations and Women & Gender Studies with a Latin American Studies minor.
Graphic by David Giacomini