The California Assembly Tuesday voted 52-21 in favor of a bill that will protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth from dangerous and abusive treatments by mental health practitioners who falsely claim to be able to change their sexual orientation or gender expression. Authored by Senator Ted Lieu, Senate Bill 1172 is co-sponsored by Equality California, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Gaylesta, Mental Health America of Northern California, Lambda Legal, and the Courage Campaign. The bill will return to the Senate for a vote to concur in amendments made in the Assembly before proceeding to Governor Jerry Brown’s desk.
This bill prohibits state-licensed mental health practitioners from engaging in abusive treatments that fraudulently claim to stop a young person from being LGBT. Sometimes referred to misleadingly as “reparative therapy” or “conversion therapy,” some of the techniques used by these practitioners include the use of shame, verbal abuse, pornography, and even aversion training. These practices are not only ineffective but extremely dangerous, and can lead to anxiety, depression, feelings of worthlessness, and even suicide. They have no scientific basis and have been rejected as ineffective and potentially harmful by medical, mental health, and child welfare organizations.
Ryan Kendall was subjected to these treatments by a licensed California therapist as a teenager and testified about his experiences during the 2010 Perry v. Brown legal challenge to Proposition 8. Earlier this year, Kendall told the California Legislature that this experience “destroyed my life and tore apart my family. In order to stop the therapy that misled my parents into believing that I could somehow be made straight, I was forced to run away from home, surrender myself to the local department of human services, and legally separate myself from my family.”
By the time Kendall was 16, the damage inflicted by these abusive treatments and being rejected by his family drove Kendall to the brink of suicide. For the next 10 years, he struggled with depression, periods of homelessness and drug abuse.
It was only as an adult that Kendall, now 29, was able to get his life back on track. He is now a student at Columbia University in New York City, with plans of studying law and becoming a civil rights attorney.
“I wish the law had protected me and my family from this abusive practice when I was a teenager,” said Kendall. “I am lucky that I survived, but I will never be able to recover the years I lost to feeling worthless and suicidal because a state-licensed therapist convinced my family that being gay is a mental illness and that who I am is shameful and wrong. These practices are child abuse, pure and simple, and I look forward to seeing Governor Brown sign this bill into law.”
In 2009, the American Psychological Association reviewed published reports about treatments that claim to change a person’s sexual orientation and issued a report concluding that there is no evidence that these practices work and that they are based on a false belief that being gay is an illness or disorder. The report also concluded that based on the harms reported by survivors these practices may pose serious health risks, including confusion, depression, guilt, helplessness, hopelessness, shame, social withdrawal, suicidality, substance abuse, stress, disappointment, self-blame, decreased self-esteem and authenticity to others, increased self-hatred, hostility and blame toward parents, feelings of anger and betrayal, loss of friends and potential romantic partners, problems with sexual and emotional intimacy, sexual dysfunction, high-risk sexual behaviors, a feeling of being dehumanized and untrue to self, a loss of faith, and a sense of having wasted time and resources.
Also in 2009, the American Psychological Association issued a statement advising “parents, guardians, young people, and their families to avoid sexual orientation change efforts that portray homosexuality as a mental illness or developmental disorder and to seek psychotherapy, social support, and educational services that provide accurate information on sexual orientation and sexuality, increase family and school support, and reduce rejection of sexual minority youth.”
“These dangerous, unscientific practices have caused too many young people to take their own lives or suffer lifelong harm after being told, falsely, that who they are and who they love is wrong, sick, or the result of personal or moral failure,” said Clarissa Filgioun, Equality California board president. “We applaud the legislature, and in particular, Senator Ted Lieu, for putting a stop to the psychological abuse these misguided practitioners have inflicted on vulnerable youth and families.”
Said therapist Ben Caldwell, chair of the legislative and advocacy committee for the California Division of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, “California’s lawmakers should be praised for moving to protect children from the serious and lasting harm that comes from this illegitimate and unsupported ‘therapy.’ Senator Lieu and his staff have worked tirelessly for months with major professional associations to ensure that this bill would protect children from the damage that can result from so-called reparative therapy while ensuring that it would not interfere with appropriate, legitimate therapies that provide understanding and support to LGBT youth. As a result of this process, numerous mental health organizations and associations have lined up to proudly support SB1172.”
Added NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell, “The time is long overdue for the legislature to take action to stop the severe harms being inflicted on young people and their families by these dangerous practices. These practices have been thoroughly discredited, and yet every day in California state-licensed therapists abuse their professional authority to deceive parents and wreck the lives of youth who deserve nothing but protection and support. This bill will literally save lives. California youth deserve protection from this terrible abuse.”
Senate Bill 1172 is supported by the National Association of Social Workers, California Chapter, the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, California Division, the American Psychoanalytic Association, and the California Board of Behavioral Sciences, among others.
To learn more about Equality California-sponsored legislation, visit, www.eqca.org/legislation.
Equality California (EQCA) is the largest statewide lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender advocacy organization in California. Over the past decade, Equality California has strategically moved California from a state with extremely limited legal protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people to a state with some of the most comprehensive human rights protections in the nation. Equality California has partnered with legislators to successfully sponsor more than 85 pieces of pro-equality legislation. EQCA continues to advance equality through legislative advocacy, electoral work, public education and community empowerment.
The National Center for Lesbian Rights is a national legal organization committed to advancing the civil and human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education.