Analysis Politics

Texas Republicans Want to Keep ‘Reparative Therapy’ Alive in the State

Martha Kempner

The Texas Republican Party's draft platform says the party "recognize[s] the legitimacy and value of ... reparative therapy and treatment to patients who are seeking escape from the homosexual lifestyle." The party is among sparse company, since all major medical associations condemn the practice.

It seems like every few days the LGBTQ rights movement makes a little progress, especially in the fight for marriage equality. In recent weeks, a number of judges have struck down efforts to ban same-sex marriage or upheld efforts to institute it, and just Wednesday the Supreme Court refused to block same-sex marriage from going forward in Oregon.

Anyone who thinks it’s time to declare victory and take a rest, however, need only to look at, among other things, the draft of the Texas Republican Party’s platform. (The final version, which has not been made available, was approved over the weekend.)

The draft states that public policies should never present homosexuality as an “acceptable alternative lifestyle” and that family should never be “redefined to include homosexual couples.” Perhaps more disturbing, the draft platform suggests that reparative therapy is a legitimate form of mental health care and no laws should ever be made to limit access.

Reparative therapy, also known as “conversion therapy,” assumes that people can change their sexual orientation and aims to make gay people straight. This form of therapy became popular in the 1970s and ’80s when the mainstream medical associations realized that homosexuality was not a mental illness and declared that the goal of mental health care for gay and lesbian individuals should not be to “cure” them but to help them cope with a very homophobic society.

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A group of psychologists and psychiatrists opposed this decision and created a new organization called NARTH (the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality), which was founded on the “assumption that obligatory homosexuality is a treatable disorder.” A number of other groups were formed by those with a religious rather than scientific background. One of the most prominent was Exodus International, an affiliation of ministries around the world that promoted religiously based reparative therapy.

Exodus and 14 other ministries gained national attention in the late ’90s when they launched a million-dollar ad campaign telling people that people could “pray away the gay.” The people in the ad called themselves “ex-gays” and promised others that they could cure them of their homosexual desires as well. Reparative therapy itself included everything from self-guided Bible study to aversion shock therapy, in which electrodes were placed on a patient’s body while they watched gay pornography and shocks were administered every time they appeared to become aroused.

The draft of the Texas Republican Party’s platform says this of reparative therapy:

We recognize the legitimacy and value of counseling which offers reparative therapy and treatment to patients who are seeking escape from the homosexual lifestyle.

At this point, though, the Texas Republican Party is among sparse company. All major medical associations condemn the practice. A committee for the American Psychological Association looked at 83 peer-reviewed studies conducted between 1960 and 2007 and found no legitimate evidence that it worked. It said most studies on the subject had serious methodological problems, none were based on credible scientific theory, and many were based on theories that could simply never be scientifically evaluated. The committee’s report, released in 2009, concluded that efforts to change same-sex attraction are not only ineffective but also cause harm, including loss of sexual feeling, depression, thoughts of suicide, and anxiety.

Other medical associations have come out against the practice as well. The American Medical Association “opposes, the use of ‘reparative’ or ‘conversion’ therapy that is based upon the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder or based upon the a priori assumption that the patient should change his/her homosexual orientation.” The American Psychiatric Association says, “Psychotherapeutic modalities to convert or ‘repair’ homosexuality are based on developmental theories whose scientific validity is questionable. Furthermore, anecdotal reports of ‘cures’ are counterbalanced by anecdotal claims of psychological harm. … [The American Psychiatric Association] recommends that ethical practitioners refrain from attempts to change individuals’ sexual orientation, keeping in mind the medical dictum to first, do no harm.” And the American Academy of Pediatrics notes, “Therapy directed specifically at changing sexual orientation is contraindicated, since it can provoke guilt and anxiety while having little or no potential for achieving changes in orientation.”

If the opinions of these medical organizations are not enough to call this practice into question, we now have the opinion of numerous leaders from the field of reparative therapy who have apologized to the gay community and admitted that their form of therapy just doesn’t work. For example, Michael Bussee, one of the founders of Exodus International, revealed in 2010 that he had been in a relationship with another ex-gay counselor for over 20 years. He offered his sincerest apologies to the gay community and anyone he might have hurt through his involvement with reparative therapy. And John Smid, the former director of Exodus affiliate Love in Action, told MSNBC viewers in 2011 that he is gay and that it is actually impossible to change one’s sexual orientation.

As Rewire reported, at this time last year an even more shocking apology rocked the ex-gay movement: Alan Chambers, then president of Exodus International, who had starred in the famous “pray away the gay ads” with his wife, shuttered the organization and posted this apology to the lesbian and gay community on its web page.

I am sorry for the pain and hurt many of you have experienced. I am sorry that some of you spent years working through the shame and guilt you felt when your attractions didn’t change. I am sorry we promoted sexual orientation change efforts and reparative theories about sexual orientation that stigmatized parents. I am sorry that there were times I didn’t stand up to people publicly “on my side” who called you names like sodomite—or worse.

Chambers said that he and his board planned to open a new ministry that made churches a more welcoming place.

Perhaps it’s best if they don’t open it in Texas, given the state Republican Party’s desire to ensure that no laws are ever made there limiting access to this type of therapy.

Two states—California and New Jersey—have already passed such laws as a way to protect minors from being forced by their parents to participate in reparative therapy.

During hearings on the bill in New Jersey, college student Jonathon Bier testified that he was threatened with expulsion from his Yeshiva if he did not submit to conversion therapy. He told the committee, “The therapy involved my reading specific portions of the Bible over and over on a weekly basis for the year. I was told about the dangers of homosexuality how it’s connected to disease, mental illness, a life of unhappiness. This hurt me deeply, to this day I’m still affected.”

Both the New Jersey and the California laws were challenged in court, and the law won out each time. In California, the unanimous opinion of a three-judge panel from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found the state law barring reparative therapy is legal in every respect. The decision stated, in part:

One could argue that children under the age of 18 are especially vulnerable with respect to sexual identity and that their parents’ judgment may be clouded by this emotionally charged issue as well.

Despite these court victories protecting young gay and lesbian individuals and others advancing the rights of same-sex couples, we should not be surprised that the draft of the Texas Republican Party’s platform contains anti-gay language. According to the Huffington Post, only seven states plus the District of Columbia have no mention of opposition to same-sex marriage or other rights for LGBT individuals in their Republican Party platforms.

News Law and Policy

Pastors Fight Illinois’ Ban on ‘Gay Conversion Therapy’

Imani Gandy

Illinois is one of a handful of states that ban so-called gay conversion therapy. Lawmakers in four states—California, Oregon, Vermont, and New Jersey—along with Washington, D.C. have passed such bans.

A group of pastors filed a lawsuit last week arguing an Illinois law that bans mental health providers from engaging in so-called gay conversion therapy unconstitutionally infringes on rights to free speech and freedom of religion.

The Illinois legislature passed the Youth Mental Health Protection Act, which went into effect on January 1. The measure bans mental health providers from engaging in sexual orientation change efforts or so-called conversion therapy with a minor.

The pastors in their lawsuit argue the enactment of the law means they are “deprived of the right to further minister to those who seek their help.”

While the pastors do not qualify as mental health providers since they are neither licensed counselors nor social workers, the pastors allege that they may be liable for consumer fraud under Section 25 of the law, which states that “no person or entity” may advertise or otherwise offer “conversion therapy” services “in a manner that represents homosexuality as a mental disease, disorder, or illness.”

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The pastors’ lawsuit seeks an order from a federal court in Illinois exempting pastoral counseling from the law. The pastors believe that “the law should not apply to pastoral counseling which informs counselees that homosexuality conduct is a sin and disorder from God’s plan for humanity,” according to a press release issued by the pastors’ attorneys.

Illinois is one of a handful of states that ban gay “conversion therapy.” Lawmakers in four states—California, Oregon, Vermont, and New Jersey—along with Washington, D.C. have passed such bans. None have been struck down as unconstitutional. The Supreme Court this year declined to take up a case challenging New Jersey’s “gay conversion therapy” ban on First Amendment grounds.

The pastors say the Illinois law is different. The complaint alleges that the Illinois statute is broader than those like it in other states because the prohibitions in the law is not limited to licensed counselors, but also apply to “any person or entity in the conduct of any trade or commerce,” which they claim affects clergy.

The pastors allege that the law is not limited to counseling minors but “prohibits offering such counseling services to any person, regardless of age.”

Aside from demanding protection for their own rights, the group of pastors asked the court for an order “protecting the rights of counselees in their congregations and others to receive pastoral counseling and teaching on the matters of homosexuality.”

“We are most concerned about young people who are seeking the right to choose their own identity,” the pastors’ attorney, John W. Mauck, said in a statement.

“This is an essential human right. However, this law undermines the dignity and integrity of those who choose a different path for their lives than politicians and activists prefer,” he continued.

“Gay conversion therapy” bans have gained traction after Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teenager, committed suicide following her experience with so-called conversion therapy.

Before taking her own life, Alcorn posted on Reddit that her parents had refused her request to transition to a woman.

“The[y] would only let me see biased Christian therapists, who instead of listening to my feelings would try to change me into a straight male who loved God, and I would cry after every session because I felt like it was hopeless and there was no way I would ever become a girl,” she wrote of her experience with conversion therapy.

The American Psychological Association, along with a coalition of health advocacy groups including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Counseling Association, and the National Association of Social Workers, have condemned “gay conversion therapy” as potentially harmful to young people “because they present the view that the sexual orientation of lesbian, gay and bisexual youth is a mental illness or disorder, and they often frame the inability to change one’s sexual orientation as a personal and moral failure.”

The White House in 2015 took a stance against so-called conversion therapy for LGBTQ youth.

Attorneys for the State of Illinois have not yet responded to the pastors’ lawsuit.

News Law and Policy

Seattle Becomes Fourth U.S. City to Outlaw ‘Conversion Therapy’

Nicole Knight

The American Psychological Association has warned of risks from the so-called treatment, including depression, anxiety, self hatred, and self-destructive behavior. Major medical organizations have rejected the harmful practice.

The Seattle City Council this week banned so-called conversion therapy for LGBTQ youth, making it the latest in a string of cities and states to outlaw the harmful and unscientific practice.

The “conversion therapy” ban passed Monday in a unanimous vote.

“Being gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer or transgender is not an illness,” said Lorena González, the councilperson who sponsored the new ordinance, as the Stranger reported. “Nor is it something that needs a cure.”

“Conversion therapy” attempts to change a young LGBTQ person’s sexual orientation or gender identity to cisgender or “straight.” Major medical and health-care organizations, such as the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry have rejected the controversial practice.

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The American Psychological Association has warned of risks from the so-called treatment, including depression, anxiety, self hatred, and self-destructive behavior.

Cincinnati, Miami Beach, and Washington, D.C. already ban “conversion therapy,” as do states including California, New Jersey, Oregon, Illinois, New York, and Vermont, Seattle officials said in a statement.

The Seattle ordinance applies to licensed providers treating youths younger than 18. Violators face fines of up to $1,000.

The city “has taken a bold step to save children’s lives, and its children have received a clear message that they were born perfect,” said Carolyn Reyes, youth policy counsel with the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR). The NCLR’s #BornPerfect campaign seeks to end “conversion therapy” nationwide by 2019 through new laws, court action, and awareness campaigns.

Although LGBTQ rights groups in Washington state had pushed for statewide legislation to outlaw “conversion therapy,” Monisha Harrell, with the LGBTQ advocacy group Equal Rights Washington, cheered the city ordinance. She said the group would redouble its efforts to enact a statewide ban.

The Obama administration last year called for an end to “conversion therapy,” throwing its support behind national legislation named for Leelah Alcorn. Alcorn, a 17-year-old transgender woman who killed herself in 2014, wrote in a suicide note that religious therapists tried to force her identify as a boy, as Rewire reported.

The Republican Party this summer nearly made support for the harmful practice part of its party platform, as Time reported.

The Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins had advocated for strong language backing “conversion therapy,” but watered down his amendment after conferring Republican National Committee officials. The party finally agreed to: “We support the right of parents to determine the proper treatment or therapy, for their minor children.”

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