LGBTQ Agenda: Over two-dozen orgs sign on to anti-conversion therapy joint statement

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Tuesday October 17, 2023
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Bay Area medical professionals Jim Walker, M.A., left, and Guy Albert, Ph.D. spearheaded an anti-conversion therapy joint statement that was signed by over two-dozen organizations and released on National Coming Out Day. Photos: Courtesy USJS
Bay Area medical professionals Jim Walker, M.A., left, and Guy Albert, Ph.D. spearheaded an anti-conversion therapy joint statement that was signed by over two-dozen organizations and released on National Coming Out Day. Photos: Courtesy USJS

Two Bay Area gay medical professionals announced October 11 that 28 medical and psychological professional organizations have issued a joint statement against conversion therapy, in what they said was an unprecedented show of unity.

Conversion therapy is the attempt to change a person's underlying sexual orientation or gender identity. The practice, considered pseudoscientific and widely opposed by major medical associations, is banned or restricted for children in California, 25 other states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico (D.C.'s ban is the only one that applies to both adults and minors).

However, USA Today reported October 9 that the U.S. Supreme Court may hear a lawsuit seeking to overturn laws against conversion therapy. Brian Tingley, a licensed family counselor in Washington state, claims it violates his constitutional rights.

In 2020, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down municipal bans in Florida on First Amendment grounds. The circuit covers the Sunshine State and Alabama and Georgia, preventing any ban from going into effect there.

United States Joint Statement Against Conversion Efforts has the support of the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, among others.

The campaign for these organizations to sign on to the joint statement was led by Guy Albert, Ph.D., 62, of Berkeley, and Jim Walker, M.A., 71, of Oakland. The two had previously worked together on advocating for Senate Bill 1172, California's ban on conversion therapy for minors, which was signed by then-governor Jerry Brown (D) in 2012.

Albert stated it was written with a mind toward framing conversion therapy as a pseudoscientific rather than as controversial speech.

"This statement conclusively shows that the U.S. medical and psychological community firmly rejects 'conversion therapy' as somehow protected 'speech-based therapy,'" he stated in a news release. "This fake therapy is not the expression of a viewpoint — it's dangerous and harmful. We all support the emergence of authentic self-acceptance and identity development in sexual and gender minorities."

Albert, who has a private practice in Berkeley, told the B.A.R. that the broad agreement from multiple disciplines on the issue is overwhelming.

"There's never been a kind of joint statement ever about anything this size," he said.

Both Albert and Walker said they were inspired to get involved in this particular effort after hearing about the suicide of Leelah Alcorn, a 17-year-old transgender girl who was struck by a truck in Ohio in 2014 after posting a suicide note to her Tumblr. The year before, she'd been sent to religious-based conversion therapy in an attempt to change her gender identity.

"The effects really are harmful," Albert said of conversion therapy efforts. "We want to stop the harm. LGBTQ people are healthy as they are."

Walker said, "I knew I had to get a message to parents nationwide that they should never, ever subject their children to the harms of so-called conversion therapy. I also took action so no adult would ever subject himself to those practices."

Albert said the American Psychological Association had to update and change some of its internal guidelines before it could sign on, as well as develop further guidelines regarding gender identity issues. An APA representative did not return a request for comment for this report by press time.

Walker, a licensed marriage and family therapist, said he first got involved in LGBTQ medical issues while working in New York City in 1984, as the AIDS epidemic was worsening.

He said that he was among those who urged the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists to take a position against Proposition 8, the successful California ballot measure that banned same-sex marriages in 2008 after they'd been allowed by the state supreme court. The B.A.R. contemporaneously reported that the association's board rejected their request 12-0.

"We were pushing them to make a statement about Prop 8," Walker said. "They wouldn't do that because they hadn't made a statement for marriage equality."

(Prop 8 was later ruled unconstitutional by a federal court, which an appeals court upheld. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2013 decided that the ruling against Prop 8 could go into effect, which resulted in same-sex marriage becoming legal in the Golden State two years before the high court's Obergefell v. Hodges decision did the same thing nationwide. The Prop 8 language, however, remains in the California Constitution and voters will decide in November 2024 whether to remove it, as the B.A.R. previously reported.)

Walker blamed conservative Christian marriage and family therapists for exerting influence within the state organization at that time. It is not affiliated with the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, which is a signatory of the joint statement.

Asked by the B.A.R. about Walker's comments and the joint statement, Holly Daniels, Ph.D., LMFT, the managing director of clinical affairs for the California association, stated it "is in full support of the Joint Statement, which aligns with CAMFT's 2016 statement against conversion therapy as well as our advocacy efforts to support the LGBTQ+ community, which can be found on CAMFT's LGBTQ+ Resources webpage."

Walker said it took him and Albert over eight years to gather the over two-dozen organizations that agreed to sign on.

"There's almost as many reasons it took eight and a half years to create as there are signatory organizations," Albert stated in a follow-up email to the B.A.R. "Some of these are associations with large memberships and very busy elected leaders who need time to get everything done. ... In addition to the process of the USJS going through internal review and approval in each association, the initial drafting of the USJS took years. Many experts were involved in drafting it, reviewing it, updating it, and finalizing it. That was the deliberative and time-consuming nature of the process of drafting a new initiative and reaching consensus among so many parties."

Said Walker: "That's why it took eight and a half years — to find the champions — to find the people who are going to help us move this through the associations."

Albert said that while some organizations were hesitant because joint statements were not something they normally did, nobody seriously disagreed with the statement's facts.

Once the APA signed on earlier this year, Walker agreed it was time to go public and announce. The announcement coincided with National Coming Out Day.

Walker stated that it is his hope the statement will serve as "an educational framework" for the partnering organizations.

"It can also be used legislatively and legally as evidence that the major mental health and medical provider associations stand against conversion efforts and for affirming care," he stated in the news release. "The USJS aims to foster greater acceptance, approval and love for patients struggling to find their authentic selves. Our goal is to increase the patient's growth towards a more loving embrace of self from within and from the wider world."

Congressmember Ted Lieu (D-Los Angeles), a straight ally and former member of the California Legislature, issued his own statement October 11 supporting the joint statement. Lieu had sponsored the California bill back in 2011.

"So-called 'conversion therapy' is a sham that is dangerous to members of the LGBTQIA+ community," Lieu stated. "Major medical organizations have found that conversion therapy has no basis in science and is entirely illegitimate. I was proud to author the country's first ban on conversion therapy when I was in the California Statehouse because it is a harmful and fraudulent practice based on junk science.

"I recently reintroduced the Therapeutic Fraud Prevention Act, which would place a federal ban on this hateful practice, and I am committed to seeing it signed into law," Lieu added. "Everyone deserves dignity, respect and affirmation regardless of their gender or sexual orientation. It's time to end conversion therapy once and for all."

LGBTQ Agenda is an online column that appears weekly. Got a tip on queer news? Contact John Ferrannini at [email protected]

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