The Trevor Project is proud to support Guidance Document 125-9, on the Practice of Conversion Therapy, which would protect youth under the age of 18 from so-called “conversion therapy” at the hands of licensed psychologists in Virginia.
The Trevor Project is the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Questioning) young people. We work every day to save young lives by providing support through free and confidential suicide prevention and crisis intervention programs on platforms where young people spend their time: our 24/7 phone lifeline, chat, text, and soon-to-come integrations with social media platforms. We also run TrevorSpace, the world’s largest safe space social networking site for LGBTQ youth, and operate innovative education, research, and advocacy programs.
In the past year alone, The Trevor Project has been contacted by more than 2,500 young Virginians. Nationally, many of the young people that we serve are survivors of conversion therapy or have a credible fear that their family members will compel them to go through conversion therapy. Supervisors for The Trevor Project’s crisis services report that these issues come up regularly in conversation with youth coming to us for help, and as often as weekly. These impressions are borne out by data collected on TrevorLifeline, TrevorText, and TrevorChat, as our records show that since 2010 hundreds of contacts have reached out to The Trevor Project with specific concerns around this practice and terms like “conversion therapy,” “reparative therapy,” and “ex-gay” have appeared on our text-based platforms with disturbing frequency.
Some of these LGBTQ youth contact us because their parents are threatening to send them to conversion therapy. Others call us because they are in conversion therapy, it is not working, and their feelings of isolation and failure contribute to suicidal thoughts and behaviors. We’ve had youth reach out because friends or loved ones are being subjected to conversion therapy. And finally, young people have come to The Trevor Project in a state of profound distress because a someone they know has died by suicide during or after being subjected to conversion therapy.
The Trevor Project is invested in ending conversion therapy in every state because we know from experience and rigorous social science that conversion therapy contributes to an increased likelihood of suicide attempts among the youth we exist to serve. Recent research by The Family Acceptance Project has found that rates of attempted suicide by LGBT youth whose parents tried to change their sexual orientation were more than double (48%) the rate of LGBT youth who reported no such attempts to change their orientation (22%). Suicide attempts for LGBT young people who reported both home-based efforts to change their sexual orientation by parents and formal change efforts by therapists and/or religious leaders were three times higher (63%).
Far from being a relic of history, the practice of conversion therapy is active and ongoing in Virginia today. A 2018 study by the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law shows that nearly 700,000 LGBTQ adults have been subjected to conversion therapy, with 350,000 of them receiving the dangerous and discredited treatment as youth. That number grows by thousands each year as the Williams Institute estimates that nearly 57,000 LGBTQ youth will be subjected to conversion therapy in the next few years by either a religious or spiritual advisor. An estimated 20,000 LGBT youth currently ages 13 to 17 will undergo conversion therapy from a licensed health care professional before the age of 18. These are the youth this guidance would protect.
Virginia law already prohibits discredited and unsafe practices by licensed therapists. This guidance would prevent licensed mental health providers in Virginia from performing conversion therapy with a patient under 18 years of age – nothing more, nothing less. The guidance will curb harmful practices known to produce lifelong damage to those who are subjected to them and help ensure the health and safety of LGBTQ youth.
For these reasons and on behalf of the youth who depend upon our services, The Trevor Project strongly supports Guidance Document 125-9. Thank you for your consideration of this importance guidance.