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Illinois gets it wrong on gay conversion therapy

Illinois House members failed to protect the mental health of vulnerable lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth when they voted 44-51 late last week against banning conversion therapy for minors. Allowing this ineffective and medieval practice to continue will cause, in the words of the American Psychiatric Association, “anxiety, depression, and self-destructive behavior” for many LGBT adolescents.

When expensive conversion therapy programs fail, some parents blame their own children for not sexually converting. The results of such family trauma can be dangerous, if not deadly. A 2009 study by San Francisco State researcher Caitlin Ryan, which was published in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, shows that LGBT teens who experienced negative feedback from their family when they came out were 8 times more likely to have attempted suicide, 6 times as vulnerable to severe depression, and 3 times more likely to use drugs.

It is important to remember that “conversion” therapy (aka reparative) isn’t really therapy at all. It is anti-gay malice disguised as medicine and nothing more than faith healing that adopts therapeutic language to appear legitimate. The practice in question is not taught in a single accredited non-religious university in the country. There are no peer review scientific articles supporting the idea that people can transform their sexuality. It is thoroughly rejected by every respected medical and mental health organization in the nation. This includes The American Medical Association, The American Psychological Association, The American Psychiatric Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

So, why are Illinois lawmakers continuing to allow our youth to be guinea pigs for such a disreputable and damaging practice?

Conversion therapy starts with the faulty premise that LGBT people are sick and in need of a cure. In reality, the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality as a mental disorder in 1973. Since this time, science — including a lab at Northwestern University in Evanston — has shown that sexual orientation has biological origins.

Those who practice this form of abuse claim that bad parenting causes homosexuality. Of course, we know this to be false. LGBT people come from every imaginable background and many, including myself, have wonderful relations with both parents. Conversion therapists also make the bizarre claim that gay men are bad at sports and need to learn how to throw a ball. Among their techniques to make clients more gender conforming is to encourage the imbibing of sports drinks and calling male friends “dude.”

How many muscle-bound college and professional athletes, such as Michael Sam, Derrick Gordon, and Jason Collins, need to come out of the closet before conversion therapists stop confusing outdated stereotypes with science?

Yes, there are people who claim to have successfully changed sexual orientations, but the transformations are often ephemeral. For example, 15 socially conservative organizations launched 1998s “Truth in Love” advertising campaign, which highlighted alleged sexual conversions in full-page newspaper ads. I photographed the campaign’s first poster boy, John Paulk, who appeared on the cover of Newsweek, in a gay bar in 2000. Last year, Paulk came out, divorced his wife, apologized, and renounced such programs.

In 2013, the largest “ex-gay” ministry, Exodus International, closed down after the group’s executive director, Alan Chambers, denounced conversion therapy and said that 99.9 percent of his clients had not sexually converted. John Smid, the former leader of another key ministry, Love in Action, is now living with his boyfriend in Paris, Texas. The failure rate of these programs is so high, because such groups use guilt to browbeat people into altering their sexual behavior – not their sexual orientation, meaning to whom they are attracted.

The evidence against these programs is so overwhelming that bans against conversion therapy for minors have had bipartisan support. California’s Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown and Gov. Chris Christie, his Republican counterpart from New Jersey, have both signed such bills into law.

It time for the Illinois legislature to take a strong stand for LGBT youth and vote to ban such barbarism before more children in our state are harmed.

Wayne Besen is the author of “Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth” (Harrington Park Press 2003). He is the executive director of the Chicago-based non-profit organization Truth Wins Out (TWO). He is also the host of “I’ve Got Issues” on WCPT radio.



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