In May of this year, Maryland became the 11th state in the USA to ban gay conversion therapy, a tactic often used by religious organizations to try to alter an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity. While this news is comforting to many LGBTQ youth, gay conversion therapy is still legal and practiced in many states across the nation. Two new film releases this year, “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” and “Boy Erased,” are tackling this subject in authentic ways and bringing to light a practice that’s sadly as relevant as ever.
Its Toll on Mental Health
Often referred to as “reparative therapy,” gay conversion therapy has shown to exert a tremendous toll on a person’s mental health and lead them to depression and suicide. Conversion therapy is typically brought on by the parents of the individual, and they’re forced into it as a form of “punishment” for their sexuality. Research conducted at San Francisco State University found that LGBTQ youth who were rejected by their parents because of their sexual orientation were more than 8 times as likely to have attempted suicide.
Without the acceptance of their parents, LGBTQ youth have shown to develop self-hatred and remorse toward themselves, and gay conversion therapy perpetuates these feelings. Using methods such as inducing nausea, inflicting shame and even giving electric shocks to the individual, therapists attempt to “cure” them of their same-sex attraction and “correct” their behavior.
When LGBTQ teens are told they’re “sick” and need to be “saved” because of their sexuality, their mental health is significantly impacted. Counseling experts from Rutgers found “when language that is biased against LGBT individuals is used on a routine basis, it can have a cumulative effect that is damaging.”
Where We’re Seeing It Today
The history of gay conversion therapy spans centuries, with some psychiatrists using hypnosis to try to treat their LGBTQ paitents’ sexuality during the 18th century. But with the popularization of behavioral therapies in the 1960s and ‘70s, psychologists began coming up with new and frightening methods to try and “cure” someone’s homosexuality.
During the early 1970s, a psychologist named George Rekers published an article touting his treatments of homosexual patients as successful and revolutionary and used a 5-year-old patient of his as an example. The child, Kirk Murphy, showed stereotypically feminine traits, and his parents sent him to Rekers to “prevent” him from being a homosexual. Even though Rekers said it was a success, Murphy developed severe psychological distress and, as a gay adult, died by suicide at the age of 38.
With so many health and psychology organizations refuting gay conversion therapy practices, why is it still legal in a majority of states around the country and still practiced by religious groups every day?
The answer may lie in the negative way some religious communities view homosexuality and the amount of LGBTQ youth coming from anti-gay households. There are still several churches prohibiting same-sex marriage in the U.S. and many LGBT teens are left homeless after being kicked out of the house by their parents. Discrimination and violence against the LGBTQ community occurs daily in America, with the LGBTQ murder rate having increased by 90 percent last year. Eighty-eight LGBTQ homicides were reported between 2012 and 2015, according to research from Bradley University.
Even with gay conversion therapy organizations being banned in several states, many are still being operated around the USA.
How We Can Do Better
According to researchers from the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, an estimated 20,000 teens ages 13 to 17 will undergo conversion therapy in an attempt to change their sexual orientation. It’s vital that parents offer support and love to their children and never subject them to harmful gay conversion therapy treatments. There are several mental health resources available to LGBT youth such as The Trevor Project and services for those struggling with unsupportive families such as the GLBT National Hotline.
To all those suffering out there with feelings of worthlessness and self-hate, know that you’re not alone and there are people out there who can help you restore a positive outlook on life. No LGBTQ person should live in shame because of their sexuality or gender identity, and we need to recognize that and ban gay conversion therapy nationwide.
This article is by writer and activist Nick Rudow.