After helping California and New Jersey successfully pass legislation to outlaw the use of so-called ex-gay therapy on minors, the National Center for Lesbian Rights is taking on the practice nationwide in a new campaign.
#BornPerfect: The Campaign to End Conversion Therapy hopes to hammer the final nail into the coffin of the outdated, debunked practice of "reparative therapy," also known as "sexual orientation change therapy," which attempts to turn gay people straight. The practice has been discredited by every major psychiatric, medical, and mental health organization in the country, with the American Psychological Association — and several other prominent health groups — denouncing the practice as harmful, and likely to increase dangerous behavior, including suicidal ideation.
The new campaign involves working with activists, organizers, lawmakers, and citizens to enact legislation in all 50 states outlawing the use of "reparative therapy" on minors by licensed therapists and counselors within the next five years. NCLR hopes to accomplish this by providing state legislators and LGBT leaders with comprehensive resources to build local campaigns against the discredited practice, then continuing to work closely with lawmakers and advocates as they draft legislation and testifying in support of such bills in state legislatures. The legal group is already in touch with a number of LGBT adults who were subjected to such treatment as children and can speak directly to the harm it caused them.
“By 16, I had lost everything," said Ryan Kendall, a Colorado native who is now 31 and a recent graduate of Columbia University with plans to attend law school. "My family and my faith had rejected me, and the damaging messages of conversion therapy, coupled with this rejection, drove me to the brink of suicide. I am lucky that I survived, but I will never be able to recover the years I lost to feeling worthless and suicidal because a therapist convinced my family that being gay is a mental illness and that who I am is shameful and wrong. These practices are child abuse, pure and simple."
Kendall and other "ex-gay" survivors have worked closely with NCLR and other LGBT groups to support legislative efforts to ban the discredited therapy in several states — with legislation introduced this year in Minnesota, New York, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington State, Washington D.C., and Wisconsin. At press time, none of those bills had passed their state's full legislature — some died in committee, while others were not brought to a vote before the end of the legislative term. Find a comprehensive list of the status of legislative efforts in each state at NCLR's website.
In 2012, California became the first state to prohibit licensed therapists from engaging in efforts to change the sexual orientation of minors, with New Jersey enacting a similar law the following year. Both laws were challenged and subsequently upheld in federal court.