OP-ED: The World is a Conversion Therapy Camp

Balancing First Amendment concerns and impact on LGBTQ youth.

The Supreme Court declined to hear a case that challenged a Washington state law that prohibited licensed healthcare professionals from the practice of so-called “conversion therapy”, a scientifically discredited practice intended to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, as it applies to minors. Ironically, the appeal was brought forward by a man named Brian Tingley.

Am I the only one who thinks it’s funny that a man named “Tingley” wants to practice conversion therapy on minors? I hope not. It’s hilarious. 

Anyway, what this means is that licensed therapists, like Mr. Tingley, cannot abuse—sorry, I mean convert—minors by trying to change them from queer to not-queer. Unsurprisingly, three of the justices disagreed with the majority and said they would have taken the case as it presents a First Amendment concern regarding Mr. Tingley’s right to use speech to abuse – ugh, I did it again – convert children.

This [decision] means that licensed therapists, like Mr. Tingley, cannot abuse—sorry, I mean convert—minors by trying to change them from queer to not-queer.

I’m sorry. I keep saying therapists, like Mr. Tingley, want to “abuse” children. That’s probably not fair. They only want to help queer children by shaming them into rejecting who they naturally are so as to put them into a constant state of self-doubt and trauma that will debilitate them as they become adults and prevent them from forming healthy, loving relationships or bonds without lots of expensive psychoanalysis or drugs, or risky behavior, or self-loathing violence against others or all of the above. You know, regular therapy stuff. 

I never went to conversion therapy, but I have a feeling that I know a little bit about what it’s like to grow up being told that who you are is an abomination, or a crime, or against God, or against nature – you name it. In fact, I think every queer person can tell you about that. Even if we grew up in the most supportive, queer friendly or even queer-centric household on the gayest street, in the gayest town, in the gayest city, in the gayest state in America, the fact is that at some point we encountered someone trying to shame us.

Right now, legislators from all over the country are passing laws intended to shame queer people into denying who they are. Maybe you’re a trans girl who wants to play soccer. Maybe you’re a non-binary teen who wants to dress a certain way. Maybe, you’re just a regular kid who wants to get the affirming medical care you need so that you can grow up loving yourself in a world where you can’t avoid people telling you to hate yourself. Maybe, you’re a gay kid or lesbian who just wants to take a date to the prom. All of these kids grow up in a world that tells them they are to be ashamed of themselves. I know, I was one of those kids. 

And let me tell you a little bit about that. The world told me since I was small that being gay was bad, even deadly. I was so convinced that it must be a choice that I turned myself in knots. Heck, I would have probably signed up for conversion therapy camp if I had known about it. It took me a long time to come to terms with who I am and love myself. It also took some therapy (and drugs and risky behavior and I did go through a short phase where I would pick fist fights). And all that it got me on the other end was realizing that I had nothing to fear or be ashamed of by being gay. That was something the world wanted me to do. 

On some level, queer people have all been subject to some form of conversion therapy. It’s unavoidable. But to endorse it as an actual, therapeutic practice only concentrates the shame the world would have us feel. It boils down that abuse into a poison that is injected into the brains of its victims, usually by someone like Mr. Tingley. And I think we have all read the many stories of how those “therapists” are dealing with their own shame. Afterall, if the world is a conversion therapy camp, then they have likely felt some of that abuse too.

What’s disheartening about the law is that although it prevents licensed therapists from practicing conversion therapy, religious counselors can still do it. Because when you don’t have actual science on your side, choose religion. Maybe someday, religions that do this to its faithful will try loving them for who they are and not making them into who they think they should be.

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Ryan Leach

Ryan Leach is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine. Follow him on Medium at www.medium.com/@ryan_leach.
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