A young man stands in a room, swinging a tennis racket into a pillow as hard as he can, gripping the racket until his hands bleed. Every strike is joined by the scream of “Mom!” as the racket impacts the effigy of the boy’s mother.
Unfortunately, this is not fiction; it is one of the pseudo-scientific methods used in the underground practice of so-called conversion therapy. It is just one of the ineffective, harmful practices aimed at attempting to “change” a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
We know about this devastating scene from testimony delivered under oath in a New Jersey court — the first-ever trial of conversion therapy practictioners in the United States. The jury found Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality guilty of consumer fraud for promising to be able to change its client’s sexual urges. That jury also determined that JONAH’s commercial practices were “unconscionable.”
Despite amazing advances in how our society views LGBT people, homophobia that considers these people to be “wrong” or “abnormal” still persists. Many right-wing religious groups promote the false idea that sexual orientation can be changed through concerted effort. Conversion therapy, sometimes called “reparative” or “ex-gay” therapy, manifests the worst kind of this prejudice. It can have profound harm to adults and, far too often, children.
The limited research on this unscientific practice has not only disproven its efficacy but also has indicated that such attempts to change a person’s fundamental being are affirmatively harmful. That’s why every major medical and mental health organization in the United States has denounced the use of so-called conversion therapy.
Last year President Obama and other top federal officials spoke against the practice. Four states, Washington, D.C., and the city of Cincinnati have laws banning conversion therapy's use on minors. Last month New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo used his executive power to prohibit the practice and prevent insurers from covering the practice.
Thanks to the work of the Southern Poverty Law Center and a major law firm, the JONAH case was the first time the public heard what happens inside the rooms where young men go to be “fixed.” The judge ordered JONAH to shut down last December.
But as advocates against this harmful policy, we must ask: What’s next?
According to the Movement Advancement Project, approximately 77 percent of the LGBT population lives in a state without laws banning the use of this discredited “therapy" on children.
That is why I recently wrote a letter, along with 27 of my colleagues and many support groups, calling on the Federal Trade Commission to create a rule to ban the practice of "conversion therapy" under Section 5 of the FTC Act.
Our letter supports the effort by the Human Rights Campaign, Southern Poverty Law Center, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which filed a joint formal complaint with the FTC in February, calling for this much-needed regulation to ban conversion therapy as the fraudulent practice that it is.
The FTC has used this authority to protect consumers against “unfair or deceptive acts or practices,” including filing formal complaints against a company that made fraudulent claims in selling prescription drugs online. Section 5 represents the most viable national strategy to ban conversion therapy.
A bill banning it has also been introduced here in Congress, though Republican leadership has no interest in allowing a vote on the legislation. While Republicans continue to obstruct meaningful and necessary legislation, federal regulation would apply to all states and provide the protection all of our children deserve.
As the chair of the Transgender Equality Task Force and the Congressional Caucus to End Bullying, I will continue to push for a society that respects all of our children for who they are.
However, I also speak as a loving grandfather, proud of all my grandchildren — including my transgender granddaughter. I find it unconscionable that any parent would allow or enable their child to be subjected to this harmful practice.
Our LGBT youth need our love, not pseudo-science fueled by societal prejudice. We must stand up against this worst kind of rationalized homophobia.
U.S. REP. MIKE HONDA represents California’s 17th Congressional District, Silicon Valley. He is also a member of the Congressional LGBT Caucus and chair of the caucus’s Transgender Equality Task Force.