A group of child welfare workers, educators and medical professionals are calling on states to enact legislation protecting LGBTQ youth from being subject to conversion therapy, a highly controversial practice intended to forcibly “change” a person’s sexual orientation.
The Child Welfare League of America and Voice for Adoption are among 11 groups signed on to a letter from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) applauding the states that have enacted laws protecting youth against conversion therapy, and urging lawmakers in the rest of the country to follow suit.
“An estimated 20,000 LGBTQ minors in states without protections will be subjected to conversion therapy by a licensed healthcare professional if state lawmakers fail to act,” the letter says, citing a recent report from the University of California-Los Angeles’ Williams Institute.
Conversion therapy refers to counseling and psychotherapy aimed at changing someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The premise of the practice is that being homosexual or transgender constitutes an illness that needs treatment. Research has shown that conversion therapy not only doesn’t work, but is inappropriate and potentially harmful, especially to youth.
The letter’s signatories — which include the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Counseling Association and other mental health organizations — “emphasize the dangers of sexual orientation and gender identity change efforts, particularly for youth, which include increased risk of anxiety, depression, decreased self-esteem, social withdrawal and isolation, homelessness, substance abuse, and suicidality.”
Twenty states have pending legislation to ban conversion therapy, including Maine, Colorado and New Hampshire, according to HRC. Last month, Washington became the tenth state to ban the therapy. The others are: Connecticut, California, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Illinois, Vermont, New Mexico and Rhode Island, along with Washington, D.C.
New York has not passed a statutory ban, but a 2016 gubernatorial executive order bars private insurers and Medicaid, which provides coverage for the state’s foster youth, from covering conversion therapy. It also prohibits the state’s Department of Mental Health to perform the controversial practice.
The issue of particular interest to the field of child welfare, where research has shown that LGBTQ youth are overrepresented in foster care. A 2014 report from the Williams Institute found that 19 percent of foster youth in Los Angeles self-identified as LGBTQ, compared to 7 to 8 percent of their non-foster peers.
While some states address conversion therapy, a number of states are pushing through, or have recently passed “religious freedom” laws around the child welfare system that discriminate against LGBTQ individuals.
Most of these laws are focused on preventing LGBTQ adults from becoming foster parents, but some go further. In Texas, for example, the law leaves the state with no recourse against private foster care agencies that force kids into conversion therapy if it is justified by the agency’s religious belief, according to HRC.
In 2015, the Department of Health and Human Services released a report titled “Ending Conversion Therapy: Supporting and Affirming LGBTQ Youth,” which called for a federal ban. A federal prohibition has been introduced in the House by Rep. Ted Lieu [D-Calif.] and the Senate by Patty Murray [D-Wash.) Both bills have been stuck in committee for nearly a year.
In 2016, a top Obama child official spoke with The Chronicle of Social Change about the administration’s focus on the issue of conversion therapy.
“We need to be clear that the evidence is compelling and it doesn’t work,” said Commissioner Rafael López, former commissioner for the Administration on Children, Youth and Families. “We want to make sure we are using the best science and data we have about how children should live with families.”
The organizations behind the letter, which include the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Educators Association, represent hundreds of thousands of doctors, teachers and counselors across the country.