August 30, 2012

The California Assembly and Senate have passed a ban on 'conversion' therapy for minors, calling the practice unscientific and dangerous. The bill could soon land on Gov. Jerry Brown's desk.

By Daniel B. Wood, Staff writer
California is poised to become the first state in the country to ban “conversion” or “reparative” therapy for minor – treatments that claim to stop a young person from being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender or to reverse such tendencies.

Proponents of the law say top mental-health organizations agree that such practices are not only misguided but also dangerous, potentially leading to anxiety, depression, feelings of worthlessness, and even suicide. Opponents say there is more than 100 years of professional and scientific literature on the subject of sexual-orientation change, offering a strong case that, for at least some people, sexual orientation can be modified.

Legal challenges could follow, though scholars suggest that the measure appears to be a straightforward attempt to protect public safety on a matter generally governed by state law. If the bill is signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown (D) – who has not taken any public stance on the issue – it could be followed by similar laws in blue states nationwide.

Known as Senate Bill 1172, the bill passed the California Assembly Tuesday, 52 to 21, and now returns to the Senate, where it previously passed, 23 to 13, for a concurrence vote on amendments. Then, it would go to Governor Brown’s desk.

Gay-rights groups have been quick to applaud the bills author, Sen. Ted Lieu (D).

“These dangerous, unscientific practices have caused too many young people to take their own lives or suffer lifelong harm after being told, falsely, that who they are – and who they love – is wrong, sick, or the result of personal or moral failure,” said Clarissa Filgioun, Equality California board president.

She says some of the techniques used by these practitioners include the use of shame, verbal abuse, pornography, and even aversion training. The American Psychological Association, she notes, reviewed published reports about such treatments and issued a report concluding there is no evidence that such practices work, and that they’re based on the “false belief that being gay is an illness or a disorder.”

SB 1172 advocates cite the case of Ryan Kendall, who was subjected to these treatments by a licensed California therapist as a teenager and, earlier this year, told the California Legislature that the experience “destroyed my life and tore apart my family."

"In order to stop the therapy that misled my parents into believing that I could somehow be made straight, I was forced to run away from home, surrender myself to the local department of human services, and legally separate myself from my family,” he added in testimony to the Assembly.