Emotional well-being of children must be the primary concern in conversion therapy debate

Davis Clark

LGBT rights have advanced their recent national progress as New Jersey became the third state to successfully ban “conversion therapy,” a process by which LGBT children and teens are subjected to weekslong conversion efforts to make them straight.

The ban is an important, though largely unheralded, victory for LGBT rights. In the wake of recent LGBT rights advances, most notably the Supreme Court’s Obergefell v. Hodges ruling, the relative lack of public knowledge of nationwide efforts to ban the disgusting practice of conversion therapy is unsurprising. Such efforts, however, are gaining important momentum, so it is time that the public place banning conversion therapy at the fore of LGBT goals.

Efforts to ban conversion therapy have been successful in several states, as California, Oregon and New Jersey along with the District of Columbia have statewide bans. Rep. Ted Lieu (D-California) has taken the valuable step of advocating these efforts at the national level with his proposed nationwide ban, which would have conversion therapy listed as fraud at the federal level. The congressman excellently captured the appropriate attitude toward this issue in a press release when he said, “Fraud is fraud and love is love. … purportedly treating people for medical conditions that do not exist is fraudulent. Being heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual is not a medical condition.”

Unfortunately, conversion therapy has recently received media attention and political scrutiny for more tragic reasons. Most notable among these was the suicide of Leelah Alcorn, who left a note that cited the emotional damage of conversion therapy and parental neglect as the driving force behind her suicide. Her heartbreaking story prompted condemnation of conversion therapy from several powerful groups. A petition, signed by 120,000 people, urging President Obama to ban the practice nationwide evoked support for a nationwide ban from the White House.

Despite many powerful groups calling for abolition of the practice, defenders remain. Fundamentalist Christian organizations are the most outspoken advocates, along with the secular National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality. The former claim that parents’ religious concerns about LGBT children deserve respect and should not be infringed upon. While the latter defend the science behind conversion therapy.

The religious liberty of parents and their right to raise their children a certain way ought not be denied, but conversion therapy cannot stand. The practice exceeds the bounds of legitimate parenting because of its roundly attacked scientific basis and emotionally hurt patients.

United States Surgeon General Vivek Murthy recently denounced it as a “not sound medical practice.” In 2004, the American Psychological Association faulted NARTH for not adhering to their “policy of nondiscrimination” and “demeaning” their gay and lesbian members, as well as officially branding conversion therapy “certainly discredited.” A report from the Human Rights Campaign demonstrated the extent of psychological damage wrought by conversion therapy — rejected LGBT youths are eight times more likely to commit suicide and six times more likely to report depression when compared to LGBT youths with relative acceptance from parents and friends.

Condemnation of conversion therapy on scientific grounds is beyond question at this point. Growing up is fraught with troubles but especially so for LGBT children dealing with intense oppression from peers and even their own parents. Convincing these children that their natural identity is a condition ranging from shameful to religiously condemning to an illness cannot stand.

Clark is an English senior from Lake Highlands.