SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The California State Senate today approved a bill designed to limit the ability of mental health providers in California to engage in dangerous sexual orientation change efforts (sometimes referred to as “ex-gay therapy,” “conversion therapy” or “reparative therapy”).
If approved by the Assembly and signed by the Governor, Senate Bill 1172, authored by Senator Ted Lieu and co-sponsored by Equality California, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Mental Health America of Northern California, Gaylesta, and Lambda Legal, would make California the first state in the nation to ban licensed mental health professionals from engaging in sexual orientation change efforts of any kind for a minor patient, regardless of a parent’s willingness or desire to authorize participation in such programs.
“Being lesbian or gay or bisexual is not a disease or mental disorder for the same reason that being a heterosexual is not a disease or a mental disorder,” Lieu said. “The medical community is unanimous in stating that homosexuality is not a medical condition.”
Sexual orientation change efforts pose critical health risks, including depression, shame, decreased self-esteem, social withdrawal, substance abuse, self-harm and suicide. For minors, who are often subjected to these practices at the insistence of parents who don’t know, or don’t believe, the practice is harmful, the risks of long-term mental and physical health consequences are particularly severe.
“Too many young people have taken their own lives or suffered lifelong harm after being told, falsely, by a therapist or counselor that who they are is wrong, sick or the result of personal or moral failure,” said Clarissa Filgioun, Equality California board president. “Legislative action is long overdue to end the abuse of sexual orientation change efforts and for the state to fulfill its duty to protect consumers — especially youth — from therapeutic misconduct.”
In 2007, the American Psychological Association convened a Task Force on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation. The task force conducted an intensive review of peer-reviewed studies and concluded that efforts to change sexual orientation are unlikely to be successful and involve some risk of harm. The American Psychiatric Association published a position statement in March of 2000 in which it states that it “opposes any psychiatric treatment such as reparative or conversion therapy which is based upon the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder.”
Recognizing that there is no credible evidence that any type of “therapy” can change a person’s sexual orientation and that sexual orientation change efforts may cause serious and lasting harms, the American Psychological Association, the American Counseling Association, the National Association of Social Workers, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy, and the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists have also issued cautionary position statements on sexual orientation change efforts.
Recently, Dr. Robert Spitzer, the author of a study often cited by proponents to validate sexual orientation change efforts as a legitimate therapeutic practice, redacted the study and issued a formal apology to the LGBT community.
Senate Bill 1172 is part of a broader effort on the part of Equality California in 2012 to protect and empower lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth. Another legislative initiative, Assembly Bill 1856, which was approved by California Assembly, will increase safety for and improve the emotional well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender youth in foster care by creating cultural competency standards that must be met by any foster homes housing LGBT youth.