‘Reparative’ LGBT therapy criticized nationally and on campus

Nashwa Bawab

President Barack Obama recently took a stance against “reparative” therapy for gay and transgender youths. For some UT students who have gone through the process, the experience can be traumatic, according to Joey Hannah, LGBTQ specialist at the University’s Counseling and Mental Health Center. 

Last week, Obama denounced gay and transgender “conversion” therapy for minors and said he would back efforts to ban the practice at the state level. He said he was inspired in part by transgender teenager Leelah Alcorn, who died by suicide and cited these types of therapies in a note she wrote shortly before her death. A petition to ban the therapies went viral online soon after she died, and the petition gained more than 120,000 signatures before it expired.

Most children just want to be accepted for who they are and struggle when they are told they must be “fixed,” according to Cristina Urdiales, Mexican American studies sophomore and legislative chair in the Queer Students Alliance.

“Conversion therapies are done to mostly young adults and kids whose parents think they’re doing the right thing, but in reality, it’s something that can scar someone for life,” Urdiales said. “As harsh as this sounds, this statement brings to light that sometimes parents don’t know best.”

Placing people in reparative therapy, also known as conversion therapy, demonstrates a misunderstanding about sexual orientation and gender identity, said Josh Rudd, neuroscience freshman and Queer Students Alliance public relations director.

“Sexual orientation and gender identity are not things one can just change,” Rudd said. “It would be like trying to force people to change their race — it’s just not really possible.”

California, New Jersey and the District of Columbia currently have laws that ban conversion therapy for minors. Last month, Rep. Celia Israel (D-Austin) introduced a bill that would ban the practice for minors in Texas. The bill, which would provide an exception for counseling that “provides acceptance, support and understanding of a child or minor … [allows] identity exploration and development … [and] does not seek to change sexual orientation or gender identity,” is currently in committee.

The American Psychological Association advises that conversion or reparative therapies for young people be avoided and that families instead seek psychotherapy support and education to find accurate information about sexuality.

Hannah said he would like to see more states ban these kinds of therapies as well and for there to be wider understanding of the damaging consequences of the practice.

“This is a harmful practice, and it isn’t a viable option, and people are acceptable,” Hannah said. “The problem isn’t the person; the problem is the culture that needs to change.”