Karine Jean-Pierre
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Op-ed: How We'll End 'Conversion Therapy' in Four Years Flat

Op-ed: How We'll End 'Conversion Therapy' in Four Years Flat

Three years ago, then-California state Sen. Ted Lieu made history by shepherding through the legislature the first bill in the nation to protect LGBT youth from being subjected to the dangerous and discredited practice of conversion therapy by state-licensed mental health professionals. By his side was Ryan Kendall, a survivor who had endured such a severe degree of this psychological abuse as a child that a family court emancipated him, leaving him to join the millions of LGBT youth on the street struggling with depression, addiction, and suicidality.

Last week, now-U.S. Rep. Lieu made history again by introducing the first nationwide bill to protect all LGBT people, no matter who they are or where they live or how old they are, from being defrauded by someone selling a false and too often deadly promise that they can change their sexual orientation or gender identity. By his side one more time was Ryan Kendall, freshly graduated from Columbia University summa cum laude and about to begin his first year at the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Law, and now serving as a member of the National Center for Lesbian Rights' #BornPerfect Advisory Committee.

The fight to end conversion therapy three years ago suddenly shifted gears to light speed, and survivors all across the country have begun joining forces with advocates to take down their abusers. Since California’s Senate Bill 1172 was signed into law, conversion therapists have been held accountable for the damage they have wrought in courtrooms, state legislatures, Congress, the United Nations, and even the White House. Two federal circuit courts have upheld state conversion therapy bans, and a New Jersey case is on its way to making history by declaring claims that sexual orientation or gender identity can be cured as consumer fraud. Congresswoman Jackie Speier has twice introduced the Stop Harming Our Kids Resolution, calling on more states to follow California’s lead. Three additional jurisdictions have enacted nearly identical legislation — New Jersey, Washington D.C., and just last week, Oregon. In 2015 alone, 18 states have introduced their own bills to protect LGBT youth from those who would profit from their pain. The United Nations Committee Against Torture has made this an issue of international human rights law. And, just last month, the president, vice president, and surgeon general declared their opposition to so-called conversion therapy.

What we are witnessing is not only the weight of injustice collapsing under the force of its own gravity, but also the spectacular birth of a historic moment.

Still, as rapidly as things are moving, the birth of a movement takes time. Most state bills are still working their way through the legislative process, which moves at a notoriously glacial pace. Lawsuits can take years to result in a judgment, much less make their way through the appeals process. Changing the hearts and minds of parents misguided by an industry that preys on their concern for their LGBT children cannot happen overnight. And survivors must balance speaking out with caring for wounds that still bleed.

But there is good reason to keep our eyes on the horizon. When these laws do come up for a vote, they enjoy broad bipartisan support from lawmakers and overwhelming backing from medical and mental health organizations, faith leaders, youth advocates, and civil rights groups. Conversion therapists have lost every court battle they have entered to date. And groups like the Family Acceptance Project are working with conservative parents and faith communities to ensure as many kids as possible find the acceptance and support that research tells us save lives. Our momentum is only increasing.

The Therapeutic Fraud Prevention Act combines the best parts of this movement’s state legislation with the best parts of its impact litigation. If passed, it would legally define conversion therapy as the consumer fraud it is and ensure that no person can profit from inflicting the sting of self-hatred on another by telling them they were born wrong. Having spent two decades working with survivors of conversion therapy, NCLR knows firsthand the lives this will save, including thousands of children.

In June 2014, NCLR launched the #BornPerfect campaign with the ambitious goal of ending conversion therapy in five years. At the time, it seemed like a daunting — and maybe even impossible — undertaking. But, one year later, we can see the contours of that day on the horizon. Getting there won’t be easy, but pioneers like Ted Lieu and survivors like Ryan Kendall serve as powerful reminders of how far hope can take us. Hard as the conversion therapy industry may fight, the day is coming when every child, no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity, will wake up knowing they were #BornPerfect. We won’t stop until we get there.

 

SAMANTHA AMES is #BornPerfect's campaign coordinator and staff attorney at the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

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