by Eli Winter
You’re no good. You’re sick. You need help. You’re selfish, wrong, immoral, unnatural. You’re a mistake.
When one adult says that to another adult, it’s an insult. When a parent says that to a child, it’s child abuse. And when a doctor implies that to an LGBT patient, it’s conversion therapy.
Some doctors will try, in vain, to stop their patients from being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. Those doctors often resort to drastic and cruel measures to achieve their goal of making their patients’ behavior conform to gender stereotypes. Some try to condition patients to react negatively to homoerotic images. Some try to shock them. Some try to hypnotize them. All try to justify their practices by saying that what they are doing is right, healthy, and moral.
By its very name, conversion therapy—or reparative therapy, as it is sometimes called—implies that LGBT people can convert from one sexual orientation or gender identity to another, as simply as you and I might convert to another religion. The name also implies that LGBT people need to be repaired in order to be considered truly healthy. The assumption that LGBT people are inherently broken is inherently wrong, given that both homosexuality and gender identity disorder have been removed from the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. But conversion therapists tend to conveniently ignore this fact.
Conversion therapy is easily the most harmful thing a medical professional can do to LGBT patients because it increases the chances that some of those patients will commit suicide.
Both sexual orientation and gender identity are very fluid. It takes a long time for some people to discover their sexual orientation, and that process of self-discovery can be mistaken for any number of things. For example, a gay youth might be told he is “going through a phase.” He might then consider going into conversion therapy because he feels insecure with himself, or has trouble reconciling his religion with his sexual orientation or gender identity. But the reality is that you can’t look at how that young person labels his sexual orientation or gender identity and assume that label will always stick.
It is impossible to reduce the most innate, intimate characteristics of a person’s existence to a “flavor of the month”—something a person might snap out of on a whim. Suggesting that those characteristics are evil and wrong only demeans and isolates LGBT people at a time when they need companionship more than ever. It certainly doesn’t do anything to improve their health.
But advocates of conversion therapy do just that, despite the fact that not a single respected American medical organization recognizes conversion therapy as being safe or valid. Conversion therapy always does more harm than good for LGBT people. Always.
Consider the “success story” of Kirk Murphy, who underwent conversion therapy with Dr. George Rekers in the 1970s at the age of five—when most children are playing with toys and learning how to read, not playing with psychiatrists and learning how to feel insecure about themselves. Dr. Rekers’ “therapy” only succeeded in getting Murphy to come out of the closet as an adult. But he was so irreparably harmed by the therapy that he killed himself at the age of 38. The National Center for Lesbian Rights reports that such outcomes are, sadly, not uncommon among children who undergo conversion therapy. They are more than eight times as likely to have attempted suicide as a result of the therapy and the familial rejection that comes with it.
The American Psychological Association also reports that conversion therapy can lead to depression, substance abuse, insecurity, and suicidal thoughts; the list goes on. Children who undergo conversion therapy are especially at risk.
While a few states have outlawed conversion therapy entirely, Texas, of course, is not one of them. Texas’ Republican Party platform opposes this ban, arguing Texans should be allowed to decide such matters independently. But such measures only put our state’s LGBT children and adults at greater risk.
LGBT people should be encouraged to accept themselves for who they are, and not who others want them to be. Outlawing conversion therapy in Texas is a good way to start.