Being a teenager is tough. There’s so much peer pressure these days. Growing up and identifying as a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender adolescent is particularly challenging, and sometimes discouraged or even rejected by parents, religious leaders and professionals in the mental health field. Until recently, some gay minors have been subjected (against their will) to various mental health or medical methods to “go straight.” You can be “cured” of your homosexuality, they say.
A type of controversial “therapy” has been growing throughout California, as well as the nation, that claims to convert or repair a person’s sexual orientation. This so-called “conversion therapy” or reorientation therapy is scientifically ineffective and has resulted in much harm, including a number of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth engaging in anti-social behavior and substance abuse and, in extreme cases, committing suicide.
California has put a stop to this barbaric and unproven treatment practice. Senate Bill 1172 (California Business & Professions Code section 865) has established protections for gay youth under the age of 18 while giving adults more information prior to any treatment.
What is Sexual Orientation Conversion Therapy?
Conversion therapy is an attempt to change the sexual orientation of a person from homosexual or bisexual to heterosexual. The American Psychiatric Association states that conversion therapy is a type of psychiatric treatment “based on the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder or based on a prior assumption that a patient should change his/her homosexual orientation.” Most mental health professionals consider sexual orientation not to be a choice and established prior to birth. These licensed professionals discredit sexual orientation change therapy but it is still practiced by some “professionals” in California.
What Occurs During Sexual Orientation Conversion Therapy?
Conversion therapy comprises efforts by certain mental health professionals and religious leaders to convert lesbians and gay men to heterosexuality. Their techniques include aversive treatments such as the application of electric shock to the hands and/or genitals, and nausea-inducing drugs administered simultaneously with the presentation of homoerotic stimuli, masturbatory reconditioning, visualization, social skills training, psychoanalytic therapy and spiritual interventions such as prayer and group support and pressure.
What is Senate Bill 1172?
Signed into law by California Governor Jerry Brown in September 2012, Senate Bill 1172 defines Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (SOCE) as “any practices by mental health professionals that seek to change an individual’s sexual orientation…include[ing] efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions, or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same sex” [California Business & Professions Code section 865(b)(1)].
A licensed mental health provider’s use of SOCE on a patient under 18 years of age is “considered unprofessional conduct,” which will subject that provider to “discipline by the licensing entity for that mental health provider” [Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 865.2].
What the Courts Say about Sexual Orientation Change Efforts
The Federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals addressed the issue of sexual orientation therapy in 2013 on various constitutional challenges to Senate Bill 1172, concluding that this legislation regulates conduct that is “unprofessional” and therefore does not infringe upon any protected or fundamental rights of the mental health practitioner.
Furthermore, the court held that “SB 1172 advances California’s interest in ‘protecting the physical and psychological well-being of minors, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth and in protecting minors against exposure to serious harms caused by sexual orientation change efforts’ [2012 Cal. Legis. Serv. Ch. 835, §1(n).]. Without a doubt, protecting the well-being of minors is a legitimate state interest.”
Know and Protect Your Civil Rights
If you are a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender youth under the age of 18, or know someone who is, it is important that you understand that no one, not even parents, can require you or any other minor to submit to gay conversion therapy. You have civil rights and while licensed mental health professions have a first amendment right to talk to you about sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) and express their opinion about homosexuality or any other topic, they are prohibited from actually engaging you in this controversial and scientifically unproven form of therapy.
Quite simply, there’s nothing wrong, physically or psychologically, about being gay. Homosexuality is not a disease to be cured, according to the American Psychiatric Association. As attitudes and social norms change over time, most Americans agree that being gay isn’t a choice.
We’ve seen gay civil rights come a long way recently when the United States Supreme Court decided that it was unconstitutional to deny marriage benefits to same-sex couples. Proposition 8, the controversial constitutional ban on gay marriage in California has been nullified by the high court as well.
If anyone is pressuring you or a loved one to “convert” your sexuality against your wishes for whatever reason, contact your local gay and lesbian community service provider and find support. It’s out there. If a licensed mental or medical health professional is trying to use sexual orientation conversion therapy on you, be sure to report him or her to the appropriate licensing board. It’s unprofessional conduct and prohibited in California.