California bans ‘gay therapy’ for minors; first law of it’s kind

By The Columbia Chronicle

Contributing Writer: Doug Pitorek

New legislation taking effect January 2013 will ban California mental health providers from counseling minors to change their sexual orientation.

California Gov. Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 1172, the first of its kind in the country, Sept. 30, after research found that sexual orientation change efforts are potentially harmful.

“The problem with reparative therapy,” said Sen. Ted Lieu (D-28th), who introduced the bill, “is not only that it doesn’t work, but it’s been shown to harm patients. Patients who go to this therapy report feelings of self-hatred, depression, suicidal thoughts, and some of them have committed suicide.”

The American Psychological Association published research on sexual orientation change efforts in a 2009 report titled “Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation” that found therapy discouraging homosexuality yields no benefits and can be harmful.

Joy Conway, coordinator of Columbia’s LGBTQ Office of Culture and Community, said the timing of the announcement of the law couldn’t be better.

“I think it’s serendipitous that it’s happening during October when we’re celebrating LGBT history,” she said. “Corrective therapies are often very violent and very traumatic for folks, so for there to be policy against those types of crimes against people is really powerful.”

Others believe the new law is more criminal than the actual therapies and are taking action to prevent the law from taking effect.

Pacific Justice Institute, an organization of attorneys that promotes parental rights and freedom of religious expression, has filed a lawsuit alleging the ban is unconstitutional.

“[This law] applies to young boys and girls in early adolescence [when] same-sex attraction and curiosity is very common,” said PJI President Brad Dacus. “To deny such young people the counseling they need is and can be to the detriment of many young people, particularly when they have these feelings and don’t understand them or don’t understand why they have them.”

The lawsuit takes issue with the fact that the law prohibits individuals from participating in sexual orientation change efforts even if they want to.

“This legislation is an outrageous violation of the rights of young men and women under the age of 18 who desire to have counseling from a licensed counselor when they’re struggling with same-sex attraction,” Dacus said.

Lieu maintains that the First Amendment cannot be extended to protect psychologically abusive therapies. The bill explicitly differentiates between sexual orientation change efforts and acceptable treatments that “provide acceptance, support, and understanding of clients or the facilitation of client’s coping, social support, and identify exploration and development.”

The 2009 report said no evidence supports the idea that any youth treatment could change homosexuality, contradictory to a 2003 report by D. Robert Spitzer, a retired professor of psychiatry, that showed successful gay-to-straight conversion results of reparative therapy. Spitzer renounced his own study in May.

“When [Spitzer] did that, it became apparent that there was nothing out there at all that showed that you could convert someone from straight to gay or from gay to straight,” Lieu said.

As Columbia celebrates LGBTQ History Month for the first time, Conway believes this law is a good sign for the future of the LGBTQ community.

“Our hope is that we will get to the point where we are seen as indispensable in our community,” she said. “I think that this is a great victory … because that means it will give us more fuel to move forward and try it in different places.”