(This guest post is by Washington State representative Marko Liias, who has introduced a bill that would require the state to scrutinize gay conversion programs.)
Most people follow the advice of their doctors. When nearly every major health organization voices concerns over the potentially adverse health effects of a new drug, a behavior such as smoking or a new diet fad, people take notice—especially when it comes to the health and well-being of our children.
Mainstream medical organizations across the board have voiced concern about the practice of Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (SOCE), more commonly known as “gay conversion therapy.”
Last year the World Health Organization came out against services that claim to “cure” people with non-heterosexual sexual orientation, stating that they are not medically justified and represent a “serious threat to the health and well-being” of an individual.
So why would we ignore the advice of the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Counseling Association, and the National Association of Social Workers when it comes to the health and well being of those under the age of 18?
The notion that homosexuality is a disease that needs curing was renounced by the mental health mainstream half a century ago.
In 2007, a task force of the American Psychological Association undertook a thorough review of the existing research on gay conversion therapy and concluded that sexual orientation change efforts do not work.
The American Psychiatric Association official website states, “The potential risks of reparative therapy are great, including depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior…” And just last year Dr. Robert Spitzer, often labeled the father of modern psychiatry, renounced and retracted his 2001 study on conversion therapy and apologized to the gay community for making unproven claims on its effectiveness, calling it his biggest professional regret.
What is clear is that questions have been raised. For many figuring out ones sexual identity can be a struggle and it is incumbent on society to ensure that children are not subject to damaging influences as they grow into adulthood.
California recently took the bold step of banning these controversial practices. The law would subject psychologists, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals to discipline by their licensing boards for providing minors SOCE therapy.
The law now faces legal challenges in the courts but it was a bold first step in regulating this controversial practice. Here in Washington we need to follow their lead.
I recently introduced HB 1882 that would set up a panel to study the current research around SOCE practices to determine whether they are harmful and if we should put in place a set of standards to regulate their use in our state. The legislation would create a 15-member panel of predominantly mental health experts, including at least one practitioner of gay conversion therapy to evaluate current research, identify any potential harm to clients, develop recommendations for approaches to protect children, and report back to the governor by December 15, 2013.
Regardless of your opinion on gay conversion therapy we can all agree that we have a responsibility to protect our children. In the absence of scientific data that proves behavior modification techniques actually work we need to err on the side of caution and examine these controversial practices here in Washington.