California became over the weekend the first U.S. state to ban the practice of sending young gay teens to psychotherapists in an effort to steer them toward heterosexuality, a practice that is rejected by mental health professionals and organizations and deemed to be psychological abuse by the law’s supporters.
Starting Jan. 1, any mental health care provider who provides so-called sexual orientation change efforts, also known as conversion therapy, to a minor could lose his or her license to practice in the state of California.
“These practices have no basis in science or medicine, and they will now be relegated to the dustbin of quackery,” Gov. Jerry Brown said in a statement released after he signed SB 1172 into law that was presented in February by State Democratic Senator Ted W. Lieu.
The law was drawn up after a state task force began in 2009 to examine peer-reviewed academic journals and concluded that treating homosexuality as a mental illness subject to conversion psychotherapy can lead to self-destructive behavior, anxiety and depression.
Organizations that consider the treatment a form of psychological abuse include the American Psychological Association and the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists.
“LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] youth will now be protected from a practice that has been proven to have drastically negative effects on their well-being, but also has been debunked as junk science by all major medical and mental health organizations,” said a statement from the California chapter of Human Rights Campaign, which filed a petition of support for the law with nearly 50,000 signatories.
The Encino, Calif-based National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality, or Narth, has slammed the legislation as government overreach into parental decisions that harms minors’ ability to seek out treatment for unwanted urges. In August, while the bill was being debated, Narth hit on Lieu’s comments that the government has a right to intervene for the protection of minors, as it does by banning them from consuming alcohol or cigarettes regardless of parental consent.
Wayne Besen, the director of Truth Wins Out, told the New York Times that while the law targets licensed psychotherapists it does nothing to disallow similar treatments provided by religious organizations.
“Reparative therapy is junk science being used to justify religious beliefs,” he was quoted by the paper as saying in a report published Sunday.
Peer-reviewed research has found that suicide among LGBT teens is higher than in the general population and that those rates are higher in states with anti-gay legislation. The problem of gay-teen suicide and school bullying was underscored in a Minnesota school district that saw nine suicides between 2009 and 2011 of teenagers who were gay or perceived to be gay. The problem led to a U.S. Justice Department investigation into whether school officials allowed a harsh climate of anti-gay harassment. In February, the school district rescinded its sexual orientation policy that was the subject of a civil suit claiming the policy acted as a gag order preventing teachers from addressing homosexuality. The policy was changed to allow teachers to address bullying and intolerance in the context of sexual orientation.