Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 8 / 22 February 2018

Bill attacks antigay therapy


Rep. Jackie Speier Photo: Rick Gerharter
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Following on the heels of a ban passed by her home state of California, Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-San Francisco/San Mateo) is now pushing at the federal level to end antigay therapy targeted at children.

At a Washington, D.C. press event Wednesday, November 28 Speier introduced a resolution aimed at stopping "reparative therapy" operations from preying on young gay people.

The bill, dubbed the "Stop Harming Our Kids" (SHOK) resolution, seeks to express "the sense of Congress" that efforts directed at LGBT minors to change sexual orientation and gender identity or expression "are discredited and ineffective, have no legitimate therapeutic purpose, and are dangerous and harmful."

The efforts to change sexual orientation are generally referred to as "reparative therapy" or "conversion therapy." A reportedly small number of mental health care facilities purport that the practices can change a homosexual sexual orientation to heterosexual.

Both the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association have raised concerns about the efforts, saying there is no sound evidence that the practices work but that there is evidence they can pose significant risks of self-destructive behavior to the client.

"Being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered is not a disease to be cured or a mental illness that requires treatment," said Speier at the press conference. "Any effort to change sexual orientation is not medicine, it's quackery, and we should not be supporting it with taxpayer dollars."

Introduction of the bill comes less than two months after California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a first-ever bill to ban the use of reparative therapy on people under the age of 18. That law takes effect January 1.

Speier's bill does not seek to establish a legal ban but rather to put the weight of Congress behind the professional community's determination that reparative therapy can be harmful to young people.

Speier said she also hopes her resolution will prompt other states to "take steps to protect minors from efforts that promote or promise to change sexual orientation or gender identity or expression, based on the premise that homosexuality is a mental illness or developmental disorder that can or should be cured."

The day prior to Speier's press conference the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a high-profile lawsuit against a reparative therapy group in New Jersey. The lawsuit was the subject of a number of mainstream media reports Tuesday, including on CNN's Anderson Cooper 360 news magazine, with substitute host Wolf Blitzer.

The lawsuit, filed in New Jersey Superior Court, accuses a Jersey City reparative therapy group of violating the state's laws against consumer fraud. The lawsuit states that the group, Jews Offering New Alternatives for Homosexuality (JONAH), engaged in such practices as "violent role play exercises where they beat effigies of their mothers" and derided as "faggots" in mock locker room scenarios.

The lawsuit also says the group's clients, all young men, were "instructed to remove their clothing and stand naked" with a group counselor who was also naked in front of a group of other clients.

Speier said Wednesday she is investigating whether federal taxpayer funds have been used to fund conversion therapy for minors. So far, she said, she has found two instances of "so-called mental health professionals that advertise these services and appear to be eligible for federal dollars."

She has sent letters of inquiry to Medicaid and TRICARE (which provides health to the military and its families) "to determine if these instances reflect systemic weaknesses that allow federal taxpayer dollars to go to harmful, illegitimate medical services."

Speier will have to re-introduce her resolution next month after the start of the new session of Congress.

Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin issued a press statement praising Speier's resolution and calling change therapies "junk science" that has "been proven harmful to children and adults."

As of deadline Wednesday, the only co-sponsors identified were Congressmen Ted Deutch (D-Florida) and David Cicilline (D-Rhode Island), who is openly gay. Joining Speier at the press conference were representatives of the Southern Poverty Law Center, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and HRC.

NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell said her group is committed to working with Speier and state legislatures "to ensure that no young person is subjected to these dangerous practices and that no parent is deceived by therapists who falsely claim to be able to change a child's core identity."

"Every child deserves acceptance and support," said Kendell, "and families deserve honest, accurate information about how to protect their children."   


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