Legislature must ban use of ‘conversion therapy’ on our youth

Author: Apryl Alexander - April 23, 2018 - Updated: April 23, 2018

Apryl Alexander

Imagine a child is taken to a doctor by their parents, despite the child pleading they’re fine. The doctor also asserts the child is ill and begins using a practice deemed harmful and ineffective by most doctors and major professional organizations, including the American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, and American Psychological Association. The goal of the practice? To ‘convert’ that child from being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer.

Unfortunately, this scenario is all too common. In the coming years, tens of thousands of LGBTQ youth between the ages of 13-17 will be subjected to what is known as conversion therapy. These harmful techniques aim to change sexual orientation or gender identity, and substantial research indicates these methods are ineffective, unethical, and falsely imply LGBTQ persons are mentally ill, inferior, or in need of repair. The view that being LGBTQ is a mental illness has been rejected as scientifically invalid by the American Psychiatric Association and every major medical and mental health group for decades.

These harmful practices use rejection, shame, and psychological abuse to force young people to try to change who they are. They are known to be extremely dangerous and can lead to the youth to exhibit symptoms of depression, low self-worth, substance abuse, and even suicidal ideation. Scholars have argued that conversion therapy is unethical because it is intended to change a marginalized group into members of the dominant group — essentially forcing LGBTQ individuals to conform to societal norms based on heterosexist and heteronormative assumptions that idealize and solely validate a heterosexual sexual orientation.

Professional organizations support Affirmative Therapy—a culturally-informed, evidence-based approach that does not pathologize sexual orientation or gender identity. This therapeutic approach promotes a healthy identity and authenticity in LGBTQ children and adolescents through a nurturing and supportive stance.

Unfortunately, too many state-licensed mental health professionals still engage in the harmful, discredited practice of conversion therapy. Rather than helping youth navigate their adolescence, these therapists are pushing for one outcome only, and that is for the youth to not be LGBTQ. Throughout my years of professional practice, I have heard from many about how much this has caused harm to LGBTQ individuals who went through it as youth. Even in their adult lives, they still seek therapy in order to undo the damage and pain conversion therapy caused in their younger years.

This year in Colorado, we have an opportunity to do make sure no child has to be subjected to this discredited practice again. Currently going through the state legislature is House Bill 18-1245, which prohibits licensed mental health practitioners from engaging in conversion therapy with minors. The bill is aimed at state-licensed therapists who are falsely claiming that being gay or transgender is a mental illness, and therefore taking advantage of parents and harming vulnerable youth.

No young person should ever be shamed by a mental health professional into thinking that who they are is wrong. Mental health professionals should provide care that is ethical and affirming for all people – including LGBTQ young people. This is the 4th year this bill has been introduced. It passed out of the House with bipartisan support, and I hope it is able to pass the State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee in the Senate.

We cannot allow one more young person to be targeted and hurt by these dangerous and discredited practices.

Apryl Alexander

Apryl Alexander

Dr. Apryl Alexander is a clinical assistant professor within the Graduate School of Professional Psychology at the University of Denver.