The City of Denver announced Monday that it was taking steps to ban gay conversion therapy, a controversial practice intended to get rid of same sex attraction and alter gender identity. Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, along with the members of City Council, announced on December 17th that they’re proposing to ban conversion therapy for minors.
Mayor Hancock and the City Council are acting in accordance with recommendations from Denver’s LGBTQ Commission. In a statement, Hancock remarked that conversion therapy is “dangerous and immoral,” and said he intends to make certain that it never happens within Denver city limits. He went on to state that the proposal was made to ensure the safety, well-being and happiness of Denver’s LGBTQ youth.
The proposal to ban conversion therapy was issued through the city’s Office of Human Rights and Community Partnerships. The Office defined conversion therapy as the practice of attempting to alter someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity based on the belief that being LGBTQ is a mental illness.
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) rejects this perspective reiterating it’s long standing position as recently as in November of 2018. APA clarified it’s opinion back in 1998 with a position statement which said, “The APA opposes any psychiatric treatment, such as “reparative” or “conversion” therapy, that is based on the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder or is based on the a priori assumption that the patient should change his or her homosexual orientation.”
In 2013, the APA added to its opposition to this type if therapy and expanded on previous statements, adding, “The American Psychiatric Association does not believe that same-sex orientation should or needs to be changed, and efforts to do so represent a significant risk of harm by subjecting individuals to forms of treatment which have not been scientifically validated and by undermining self-esteem when sexual orientation fails to change. No credible evidence exists that any mental health intervention can reliably and safely change sexual orientation; nor, from a mental health perspective does sexual orientation need to be changed.”
In the past, some mental health therapists utilized extreme and abusive methods to alter the sexual orientation or identity of people who were lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, including institutionalization, castration, electric shock, electroconvulsive shock therapy and other forms of aversion therapy. In a 2009 report, the American Psychological Association described techniques used by therapists trying to change sexual orientation and gender identity at that time. These included inducing nausea, vomiting, pain or paralysis while showing the patient homoerotic images, delivering electric shocks, having the individual snap an elastic band around their wrist when aroused by same-sex erotic images or thoughts, using shame to create aversion to same-sex attractions, orgasmic reconditioning; and satiation therapy. Other strategies mentioned included trying to make patients’ behavior more stereotypically feminine or masculine, teaching heterosexual dating skills, using hypnosis to try to redirect desires and arousal, and other techniques, There therapeutic strategies were founded on the scientifically discredited notion that being LGBT is a defect, disorder or illness which needs to be cured.
Today, while some counselors still use aversive treatments such as those mentioned, the techniques more often used include behavioral, cognitive, psychoanalytic, and other practices in an attempt to alter same-sex attraction or gender identity. While these more modern versions of conversion therapy seem more humane than what was used in the past, they are equally lacking in scientific validity and pose serious dangers to those they are employed with. This is especially true for minors, who are often made to undergo such treatments by their parents or legal guardians, and who are at exceptionally high risk of being harmed by such efforts.
Not only is there no clear evidence that such conversion therapy works, according to the Human Rights Campaign, there is research that concludes such therapy “can lead to depression, decreased self-esteem, substance abuse, homelessness, and even suicidal behavior, which is why [it is] universally criticized by the American Medical Association, and every other mainstream medical and mental health organization,” (Human Rights Campaign, 2017).
One recent study which support this was conducted by Ryan, Toomey, Diaz, & Russell, (2018). This study examined the role of parents related to sexual orientation change efforts in adolescents. Results of the study showed that parents own efforts to change their child’s sexual orientation as well as sending their child to to therapists and religious leaders for conversion interventions both had detrimental effects on their child’s mental health and adjustment at the time and in young adulthood. Negative outcomes included depression, suicidal thoughts, low self-esteem, shame, guilt, suicidal attempts, less educational attainment, and low weekly income. Associations between sexual orientation change efforts, and health and adjustment were much stronger and more frequent for young adults who experienced attempts by parents as well as being sent to therapists and religious leaders. This emphasizes the significant need for parental education and guidance in regards to adolescent sexual orientation and sexual identity.
Conversion therapy is currently banned in 14 states as well as the District of Columbia. Denver would be the first city in Colorado to ban this therapy. The APA calls upon other lawmakers to ban what they refer to as a “harmful and discriminatory practice”.
American Psychiatric Association. (1998). “Reparative” therapy [Position statement]. Washington, DC: Author.
American Psychological Association. (2009). Resolution on appropriate affirmative responses to sexual orientation distress and change efforts. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/about/ governance/council/policy/sexual-orientation.aspx
Human Rights Campaign (2017). Therapeutic Fraud Prevention Act, supra note 15.
Ryan, C., Toomey, R. B., Diaz, R. M., & Russell, S. T. (2018). Parent-Initiated Sexual Orientation Change Efforts With LGBT Adolescents: Implications for Young Adult Mental Health and Adjustment. Journal of homosexuality, 1–15.