Gay rights have made tremendous strides in the past decade with gay marriage legalized as of 2015’s Obergefell v. Hodges decision and states banning discrimination based on sexual orientation. However, one issue still haunts the LGBTQ+ community: conversion therapy.
Thankfully, Alachua County may soon put the issue to rest. The Alachua County Commission is considering a bill that will ban conversion therapy in the county. The effects of the bill are arguable (Gainesville, by far the biggest settlement in Alachua County, already banned conversion therapy in April, and officials aren’t sure how many conversion therapy practitioners there are in Alachua County), but I applaud this measure.
For those who don’t know, conversion therapy refers to any procedure that attempts to change a person’s sexual orientation from gay to straight. The American Psychological Association (APA) opposes conversion therapy, because it assumes homosexuality is a disease that can be cured rather than a normal expression of sexuality. Perhaps because of this, most conversion therapy is done by religious groups rather than any medical or scientific professionals.
The other reason the APA opposes conversion therapy is because there is no scientific evidence of its effectiveness. The APA “does not believe that same-sex orientation should or needs to be changed, and efforts to do so represent a significant risk of harm by subjecting individuals to forms of treatment which have not been scientifically validated and by undermining self-esteem when sexual orientation fails to change. No credible evidence exists that any mental health intervention can reliably and safely change sexual orientation; nor, from a mental health perspective does sexual orientation need to be changed.”
A 2004 Families in Society journal article says conversion therapy was opposed by all the major professional groups of social workers, psychologist and psychiatrists, and the studies that have been cited by conversion therapy proponents have serious methodology problems that could question their validity. Another 2004 article in The Counseling Psychologist says that “attempts to ‘convert’ homosexuals to heterosexuality are of questionable efficacy and are ethically compromised and heavily reliant on misinformation and disinformation.” Finally, a 2018 Psychology Today article makes the case that conversion therapy is unethical, has no evidence backing it and can leave psychological scars on clients.
Likely because of this evidence, there’s been a growing movement to ban conversion therapy, especially for children. The most recent example is New York, which in January passed a law banning conversion therapy for minors. The Nebraska state legislature is currently considering a bill to ban conversion therapy for kids. The Canadian province of Alberta currently has a parliamentary working group that is considering how to ban conversion therapy. Even here in Florida, the city of Tampa passed an ordinance banning conversion therapy for minors, but the enforcement of it was halted by a judge. Therapies involving ‘treatments’ like electroshock therapy are still banned, but for the time being, therapies involving talking can continue.
I’ve heard an argument that while conversion therapy should be banned for minors, adults should be able to choose conversion therapy on the basis that adults are doing it of their own volition and they should have the right to seek out therapy. However, that argument treats conversion therapy as some sort of experimental therapy or a different way of treating a problem, but that isn’t what conversion therapy is.
Conversion therapy should be banned. There is no evidence for its effectiveness. There is even evidence that it could be harmful to those who partake in the practice. Across the country conversion therapy is becoming illegal. These groups shouldn’t be allowed to trick people any longer, and I applaud the Alachua County Commission’s proposal.
Jason Zappulla is a UF history junior. His column appears on Mondays.