Op-ed: End Conversion Therapy, Save Some Lives

Can so-called ex-gay therapy be eradicated in five years?

BY Geoff Kors

June 27 2014 6:32 AM ET

When he was 5 years old, Kirk Murphy’s parents noticed that he was developing a preference for girls’ toys.

His mother turned to a clinic at the University of California, Los Angeles, after seeing a commercial claiming that the clinic’s therapists could “fix” children who are gender-nonconforming.

After nearly a year of so-called treatment, which included parental rejection and beatings for gender-nonconforming behaviors that left Kirk traumatized and his entire family severely damaged, he was pronounced “cured.”

George Rekers, the doctoral student who “treated” Kirk, spent the 30 following years building a highly influential career off of Kirk’s experience — despite reports that the practices are dangerous and denunciations from every major mental health organization. In 2003, at the age of 38, Kirk took his own life.

Six years later, Rekers published his latest book citing Kirk’s case as a success.

This is one of many tragic stories we’ve heard since we began working to protect LGBT young people from the dangers of anti-LGBT conversion therapy more than 20 years ago, finally securing legislation banning these dangerous practices in California in 2012 and New Jersey in 2013.

This week we launched #BornPerfect: The Campaign to End Conversion Therapy. This national effort, which intends to end such therapy in five years, is aimed at protecting LGBT kids from the harms caused by attempts to change their sexual orientation or gender identity, including alienation from their families, severe depression, and suicide attempts.

Few practices are more harmful to LGBT young people than conversion therapy, also known as “reparative therapy,” “ex-gay therapy,” or “sexual orientation change efforts.” Every leading medical and mental health organization in the country has warned that these practices do not work and put young people at serious risk. The National Ccnter for Lesbian Rights has been at the forefront of the effort to protect LGBT minors from these dangerous and discredited practices by mental health providers, which put youth at risk of depression, substance abuse, and suicide.

In 2012, NCLR worked with Equality California to help draft and pass California’s Senate Bill 1172, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed, making California the first state in the nation to protect LGBT young people from these practices. The following year, NCLR worked with New Jersey legislators and Garden State Equality to pass the second bill of its kind, which Gov. Chris Christie signed into law. We are now representing advocates in California and New Jersey to defend existing laws against legal challenges by anti-LGBT groups.

We are also working with LGBT leaders and legislators in more than a dozen states across the country to help pass legislation, protecting more young people and their families from unethical therapists and counselors. These bills have earned broad bipartisan support from lawmakers, civil rights advocates, youth advocates, mental health professionals, and faith leaders all across the country.

When legislators have the opportunity to stand up for LGBT kids in their district, they do. Earlier this year, a bill passed the Washington House of Representatives 94-4, and just last week, a bill passed the New York Assembly by a vote of 86-28. Yet, despite these lopsided victories, leaders in the Washington and New York State senates refused to allow these bills to be voted on, effectively killing them for this year. While many state lawmakers are on the right track, they urgently need to hear from their constituents that protecting our kids from dangerous and ineffective conversion therapy is a priority. We are closer than we have ever been before, but we are not there yet.

We are committed to ending these dangerous and stigmatizing practices — relegating them to the dustbin of history.

GEOFF KORS is the senior policy and legislative strategist for NCLR. To help end conversion therapy in your state or learn more about #BornPerfect, go to NCLRights.org/BornPerfect.

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