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Conversion Therapy Must Be Banned

Cruel and Unusual Punishment Should Always Be Outlawed


In early April I attended a conference in Los Angeles put on by the statewide LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) rights group Equality California with my husband, Keith, and other Gold Coast activists.

Evan Low, the Assembly’s LGBT Caucus Chair and the sponsor of Assembly Bill 2943 banning “conversion therapy” quackery, reported that in the Assembly subcommittee on consumer protection, several dozen members of the religious right flooded the room and testified against the bill, with only one person lobbying for AB 2943.

One speaker even tried to beckon Assemblymember Low to heterosexuality – publicly, seriously – which is what so-called “conversion therapy” proposes to do: through counseling and various other practices, to “change” gay and lesbian people into heterosexuals.

Using electroshock and other methods to induce shame and self-hatred into people in distress, this quackery is nothing short of cruel and unusual punishment, and has already been made illegal to be perpetrated against youth in California and other states.

Currently two bills aim to ban this malignant “ex-Gay” therapy against adults. Assembly Bill 1779 would end the practice for vulnerable adults, such as those in the care of another. But it is AB 2943 that has drawn the wrath of social conservatives.

Any licensed mental health providers – counselors, psychiatrists, LCSWs (licensed clinical social workers) – who engage in this damaging practice or advertise their services will have their license to perform therapy reviewed, and possibly revoked, by their licensing entity.

In other words, should AB 2943 pass, a counselor who advertised that she can “make you straight” would be disciplined and possibly lose her license for engaging in consumer fraud.

You cannot change a person’s sexual orientation. I am gay and was born this way. I have the capacity to fall in love, as I have for the past 23 years, with a man, not a woman. To engage in so shaming a person, filling them with hatred or “shocking” them with electric current while showing them pictures of semi-clad cuties (so that they associate their normal impulses with pain), is really just torture for homosexuals. It is intolerable, and should have been made illegal years ago.

But the religious right has been rabid in its response. It will ban the Bible altogether, they’re howling. Christian bookstores will be shut down! Catholic schoolteachers will be arrested!

Honestly, after three decades of civil rights activism in the Central Coast, I’ve heard this nonsense before.

Witness this distraction in the onset of AIDS, the mid-‘90s recall effort against members of the Ventura County Board of Education who tried to ban LGBT people from speaking in public schools. See it in the “gays in the military” protest at the Seabee Base in Port Hueneme, in the marriage equality movement (“they’ll be teaching children that gay marriage is normal!”) – the radical right has always engaged in lies when we’ve fought for our lives.

Every. Single. Time.

This is called bigotry.

AB 2943 has “literally” nothing to do with the Bible or any Christian books touting the benefits of living a lie or hating yourself for your intrinsic characteristics. For being born L, G, B, or T.

It sets the practice of secular, licensed “ex-gay” therapy aside for discipline as consumer fraud.

The ban against this cruel and unusual punishment for youth has already been upheld in courts, and, indeed, other states, including Hawaii, are banning the practice across the nation. With LGBT youth especially vulnerable, such abuse, inducing such self-shame in our children, could lead some to drug abuse, high-risk behaviors, even suicide.

But I suppose these facts, the toll on my community are unimportant to social conservatives – whether we’re damaged for life, whether we kill ourselves. Because, you see, our lives have never mattered to these people. They’ve always viewed us as disposable – to die from God’s judgement (AIDS), to be quarantined, to be kept away from children and anything approaching a decent, happy life.

The lie that gays and lesbians are in a “chosen lifestyle,” a disease or addiction we can be talked and tortured out of, is the basis for the heinous practice of “conversion therapy.” It’s just one of the many lies endlessly perpetrated against us by those whose job it is to hate us.

Let us end this barbarity once and for all and pass AB 2943 into law.

Neil Coffman-Grey is a longtime Central Coast LGBT activist.

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