Conversion therapy is an extremely harmful practice that has no scientific or medical basis. It is instead based on outdated, ignorant, and discriminatory views of sexual orientation and gender identity and allows for the perpetuation of damaging stigmas. Some would argue that banning conversion therapy would be an intrusion on the moral or religious beliefs of those who practice it or who seek out the services of practitioners. However, even if true, it is a necessary and understandable intrusion. Allowing such a practice to continue would be to allow the ongoing, sanctioned, and protected practice of physical, emotional, and psychological abuse. No matter the underlying reasons or intentions and even if the practice comes from a place of love or from a deeply held belief in its value, the potential outcomes will remain the same—shame, depression, isolation, self-loathing. And such pain and suffering does not fade easily.
I grew up gay in a conservative household and as part of a conservative and religious community. I consider myself lucky that I was never exposed to formalized conversion therapy or a similar practice. (Though I believe the only reason my parents did not consider an option or were not pressured to consider it an option is because I remained fiercely secretive about my sexuality until well after college). However, even though I was not subjected to formal “conversion therapy,” I was (almost daily) exposed to the underlying principles—that being gay is some sort of mental illness or personal failure or societal ill that is necessary to change. And even this very basic exposure to such misconceptions or ill-conceived ideals at a young age has left me to struggle with emotional and psychological issues well into adulthood. I have dealt with periods of extreme self-hatred and have often questioned my value. I have spent years isolating myself from my family and refusing to trust anyone. Ultimately, my view of myself and my worth was dictated to me by what my community defined. And again, this was not even the product of official, formalized “therapy” in any way.
Therapists, counselors, psychologists, and other trusted practitioners in similar professions should be the counter force to mental and emotional abuse—not the ones to inflict it. When young people are struggling to understand who they are and how they identify and grappling with their self-worth, they should be supported and guided in a way that 1) is in line with accepted and scientifically based medical and psychological practices and 2) does not completely disregard or devalue any aspect of that identity. Therapy should seek to heal a person in need, not inflict greater wounds. And telling young LGBT youth that who they are fundamentally is wrong or sinful or an illness does just that—it intentionally inflicts pain and quite possibly causes irreparable damage.