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Conversion Therapy: The Dangerous and Discredited Practice Targeting LGBTQ+ Individuals

This article explores the harmful practice of conversion therapy, its historical context, and its devastating effects on LGBTQ+ individuals, particularly transgender people. It emphasizes the importance of community support, education, and advocacy to combat this discredited practice and promote acceptance and love.

As an older transgender woman who has witnessed the struggles and triumphs of our community, I understand the pain and confusion that can arise around the topic of conversion therapy. It’s crucial to address this harmful practice head-on, armed with knowledge and compassion. The journey of self-discovery and acceptance is challenging enough without the added burden of harmful practices that aim to invalidate our true selves. By understanding the history, methods, and impacts of conversion therapy, we can better equip ourselves to fight against it and support those who have been affected by it.

A Troubling History

The origins of conversion therapy date back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when homosexuality was viewed as a mental illness. Early forms of conversion therapy involved psychoanalysis, hypnosis, and even lobotomies. In the mid-20th century, aversion therapies like electric shocks and nausea-inducing drugs became more common. Religious groups also began promoting prayer and exorcism as “cures” for homosexuality.

In the 1970s and 80s, the ex-gay movement gained momentum, with organizations like Exodus International promoting the idea that people could change their sexual orientation through therapy and religious faith. The harmful effects of conversion therapy became increasingly clear over time, leading to its widespread condemnation by medical and mental health organizations.

What is Conversion Therapy?

Understanding what conversion therapy entails is essential for recognizing its dangers and discrediting its practices. Conversion therapy, also known as reparative therapy, is a dangerous and discredited practice that attempts to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. It’s based on the false premise that being LGBTQ+ is a mental illness or a choice that needs to be corrected. This practice is grounded in outdated and prejudiced notions about sexuality and gender, promoting the idea that LGBTQ+ identities are abnormal and require “fixing.” The methods employed in conversion therapy are diverse but share the common goal of suppressing or changing an individual’s true identity.

Forms of Conversion Therapy

Conversion therapy can take many forms, each with its own set of harmful techniques. Understanding these methods helps us grasp the extent of the trauma they inflict on LGBTQ+ individuals.

  • Talk Therapy: This method involves therapists attempting to convince individuals that their feelings are wrong or sinful. It often includes discussing religious or moral objections to LGBTQ+ identities, aiming to instill shame and self-doubt.
  • Aversion Therapy: This practice uses negative stimuli, such as electric shocks or nausea-inducing drugs, to create an association of pain or discomfort with LGBTQ+ feelings or identities. The goal is to condition individuals to associate their natural feelings with negative experiences, hoping to suppress those feelings.
  • Religious Practices: Some organizations employ prayer, exorcism, or other religious rituals in an attempt to “cure” LGBTQ+ individuals. These practices are often rooted in the belief that LGBTQ+ identities are a result of spiritual failings or demonic influence, adding a layer of spiritual trauma to the psychological harm.

These methods are not only ineffective but also profoundly damaging, contributing to a range of severe mental health issues. It’s crucial to recognize that these practices are not based on scientific evidence but on prejudice and ignorance.

The Pseudoscience Behind Conversion Therapy

Despite the fact that prominent medical and mental health organizations have extensively discredited conversion therapy, it persists in some communities due to deeply ingrained prejudices and false information. Organizations like the American Psychological Association, the American Medical Association, and the World Health Organization have all condemned conversion therapy, stating unequivocally that being LGBTQ+ is not a disorder and does not require treatment. The continued existence of conversion therapy highlights the need for ongoing education and advocacy to protect vulnerable individuals from these harmful practices.

Understanding the various forms and the pseudoscientific basis of conversion therapy is crucial for recognizing its inherent dangers and advocating for its eradication. The following section will delve deeper into the harmful effects of conversion therapy, illustrating why it is imperative to end this practice once and for all.

Why Conversion Therapy is Harmful

Conversion therapy is not only ineffective but also incredibly harmful. It attempts to change or suppress an individual’s true sexual orientation or gender identity, leading to devastating consequences. It’s crucial to understand the full extent of its harm to advocate for its complete eradication effectively.

The Psychological and Emotional Toll

Conversion therapy can lead to severe mental health issues, including:

  • Depression and Anxiety: The shame and self-hatred instilled by conversion therapy can lead to severe mental health issues. Individuals subjected to these harmful practices are often made to feel that their natural feelings and identities are wrong or sinful, resulting in deep emotional scars.
  • Self-Harm and Suicidal Thoughts: The psychological distress caused by conversion therapy can increase the risk of self-harm and suicidal thoughts. Many individuals who undergo conversion therapy experience feelings of hopelessness and despair, leading to dangerous behaviors as they struggle to reconcile their true selves with the harmful messages they receive.

The Impact on Physical Health

The trauma inflicted by conversion therapy can manifest in physical ways:

  • Substance Abuse: Some individuals turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with the trauma of conversion therapy. The stress and emotional pain from these harmful practices can drive people to seek relief through substances, leading to addiction and further health complications.

The Social Consequences

The effects of conversion therapy extend beyond the individual to their relationships and communities:

  • Family and Social Isolation: Conversion therapy can create rifts in families and communities, leaving LGBTQ+ individuals feeling alone and unsupported. The pressure to conform to societal or familial expectations can lead to isolation, further exacerbating feelings of loneliness and abandonment.

The Inherent Invalidity of Conversion Therapy

Conversion therapy does not work and can cause long-lasting harm. It’s important to remember that being LGBTQ+ is not a disease or a disorder. It’s a natural and valid part of human diversity. Attempting to change or suppress someone’s true identity only inflicts pain and suffering.

The severity of the harm that conversion therapy causes emphasizes how urgently we must fight it. We must protect and support LGBTQ+ individuals by advocating for policies that ban these practices and promoting acceptance and love.

The Impact on Transgender Individuals

While conversion therapy is harmful to all LGBTQ+ individuals, it can be especially devastating for transgender people. The practice aims to suppress a person’s true gender identity, reinforcing the false idea that being transgender is a mental illness. This not only invalidates their experiences but also creates a host of psychological and emotional issues. Understanding the unique impact of conversion therapy on transgender individuals is essential for addressing the full scope of its harm.

Gender Dysphoria: One of the most profound effects of conversion therapy on transgender individuals is the exacerbation of gender dysphoria. Gender dysphoria is the distress experienced when a person’s assigned sex at birth does not align with their gender identity. Conversion therapy, by its very nature, denies the validity of a person’s gender identity, intensifying this distress. The practice attempts to force individuals to conform to their assigned gender, which can lead to severe emotional and psychological pain.

Internalized Transphobia: Another significant impact of conversion therapy is the development of internalized transphobia. This happens when transgender people start to internalize the stigmas and unfavorable beliefs about being transgender that conversion therapy promotes. This internalization can severely damage a person’s self-esteem and mental health, leading them to believe that their gender identity is wrong or shameful. The emotional toll of this internalized hatred can be long-lasting and difficult to overcome.

Delayed Transition: The fear and shame instilled by conversion therapy can also prevent transgender individuals from seeking gender-affirming care, which is crucial for their well-being. The practice of conversion therapy often instills a deep sense of fear and shame regarding one’s true gender identity, causing individuals to delay or avoid transitioning altogether. This delay can have serious consequences for both their physical and mental health. Transitioning, which may involve hormone therapy, surgery, and social changes, is often essential for alleviating gender dysphoria and improving overall quality of life. Denying or delaying access to these necessary treatments can lead to prolonged suffering and increased risk of mental health issues.

Understanding the unique challenges faced by transgender individuals in the context of conversion therapy underscores the urgent need to eliminate this practice. Providing support, acceptance, and access to gender-affirming care is crucial for the well-being of transgender people.

Legal Status of Conversion Therapy

Despite its well-documented harm, conversion therapy continues to be a contentious issue, with its legal status varying widely across different regions. The fight against this dangerous practice involves a complex web of legal, social, and political challenges. Understanding the current landscape of conversion therapy legislation is crucial for advocating for broader protections and ensuring the safety and well-being of LGBTQ+ individuals.

As of 2024, significant progress has been made in the United States, where 20 states and Washington, D.C. have banned conversion therapy for minors. States like California, New York, Massachusetts, and Illinois have led the charge in protecting young people from this harmful practice. However, the battle is far from over. Conversion therapy remains legal in many other states and countries, and even in places where bans exist, enforcement can be challenging. This inconsistency leaves many vulnerable individuals at risk and underscores the need for continued advocacy and legal reform.

Globally, the situation is similarly varied. Some countries have enacted comprehensive bans on conversion therapy, while others have yet to address the issue, allowing the practice to continue unchecked. International efforts to combat conversion therapy are crucial, as the practice knows no borders and affects LGBTQ+ individuals worldwide. It is important to stay informed about the legal status of conversion therapy, both domestically and internationally, and to support efforts to eradicate this harmful practice everywhere.

Who is Still Pushing for Conversion Therapy?

Despite overwhelming evidence of its harm, certain groups and individuals continue to advocate for conversion therapy. These proponents often mask their harmful practices under the guise of free speech, religious freedom, or legitimate counseling. Understanding who these groups are and how they operate is crucial for dismantling their influence and protecting the LGBTQ+ community. The following organizations and individuals are some of the most prominent supporters of conversion therapy, perpetuating its dangerous ideologies and practices.

Alliance Defending Freedom: This legal organization has actively fought against bans on conversion therapy, arguing that it’s a form of protected speech and religious expression. The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) uses its legal prowess to challenge laws that ban conversion therapy, often framing their arguments around the constitutional rights of free speech and religious liberty. Their efforts undermine the protections that many states have put in place to safeguard LGBTQ+ individuals, particularly minors, from these harmful practices.

Family Research Council: The Family Research Council (FRC) is a conservative Christian group that promotes conversion therapy as a legitimate form of counseling and staunchly opposes LGBTQ+ rights. The FRC leverages its platform to spread misinformation about LGBTQ+ identities and advocate for policies that allow conversion therapy to continue. Their stance is rooted in a fundamentalist interpretation of Christianity that views non-heteronormative sexual orientations and gender identities as sinful and in need of correction.

Joseph Nicolosi: Joseph Nicolosi, a psychologist, was a prominent figure in the ex-gay movement and founded the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), which promoted conversion therapy. The scientific community has widely rejected Nicolosi’s work, but NARTH and other organizations continue to carry on his legacy. These groups continue to propagate the idea that sexual orientation and gender identity can be changed, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Focus on the Family: Focus on the Family is a Christian organization that has supported conversion therapy and promoted the idea that homosexuality can be changed. Through various media channels and resources, Focus on the Family disseminates harmful messages that encourage individuals to seek conversion therapy. Their outreach often targets parents and families of LGBTQ+ individuals, fostering environments where these harmful practices can take root and thrive.

The Need for Vigilance and Advocacy

It’s important to remain vigilant against these groups and their harmful agendas. By understanding who they are and how they operate, we can better combat their influence and protect vulnerable individuals from the dangers of conversion therapy. Advocacy for stronger protections for LGBTQ+ individuals is essential. This includes supporting legislation that bans conversion therapy, educating the public about its harms, and promoting affirming and supportive environments for all individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Together, we can work towards the complete eradication of conversion therapy and ensure that every person is free to live authentically and without fear of coercion or harm.

Addressing Current Right-Wing Talking Points

As we work to dismantle the harmful practice of conversion therapy, it’s equally important to address the dangerous rhetoric currently circulating in some right-wing circles. A troubling argument that has gained traction is the claim that by exposing children to LGBTQ+ materials or books, “children are being transed.” This assertion is not only false, but also perpetuates harmful misconceptions about sexual orientation and gender identity.

Exposing the Fallacy: Children Are Not “Being Transed”

A troubling argument currently circulating in right-wing circles claims that by exposing children to LGBTQ+ materials or books, “children are being transed.” This notion is not only false but also dangerous. It perpetuates the same flawed premise that underlies conversion therapy: the idea that sexual orientation or gender identity are choices that can be influenced or changed through external means.

Conversion therapy and the fearmongering about “transing” children both rest on the erroneous belief that being LGBTQ+ is something that can be taught, chosen, or changed. In reality, sexual orientation and gender identity are intrinsic aspects of who we are. Exposure to diverse representations and inclusive materials does not make a child LGBTQ+; it fosters understanding, acceptance, and empathy.

This kind of rhetoric not only harms LGBTQ+ individuals but also promotes a culture of ignorance and intolerance. It’s essential to counter these arguments with facts and compassion, highlighting that everyone deserves to be accepted for who they are, without fear or shame.

The Reality: Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Are Innate

Contrary to the claims of those who push the idea that children can be influenced into being LGBTQ+, scientific research and expert consensus clearly demonstrate that sexual orientation and gender identity are innate aspects of an individual. They are not decisions that are subject to change or influence from outside sources like books, media, or education. Just as one cannot be “converted” into being LGBTQ+, one cannot be “converted” out of it.

The Role of Education and Representation

Educational materials and inclusive representations are crucial in fostering a supportive and understanding environment for all children. These resources provide valuable insights into the diversity of human experiences and encourage empathy, respect, and acceptance. When children learn about different identities and orientations, it helps them understand that being LGBTQ+ is a natural and valid part of the human experience. This understanding is essential in combating prejudice and discrimination.

The Harm of Fearmongering

The fearmongering rhetoric that claims children are being “transed” or influenced into being LGBTQ+ is not only baseless but also deeply harmful. It creates a hostile environment for LGBTQ+ individuals, particularly young people, who may already be struggling with their identities. This kind of rhetoric can lead to increased bullying, discrimination, and mental health issues among LGBTQ+ youth.

To counter these harmful arguments, it is crucial to respond with compassion and facts. Emphasize the innate nature of sexual orientation and gender identity, and highlight the importance of inclusive education in promoting understanding and acceptance. By doing so, we can create a more supportive and affirming environment for all individuals, regardless of their identity.

As members of the transgender community, allies, and advocates, it is our responsibility to challenge misinformation and promote acceptance. By educating ourselves and others, supporting inclusive policies, and standing up against harmful rhetoric, we can make a significant difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ individuals. Together, we can work towards a future where everyone is free to be their authentic selves, without fear or shame.

What You Can Do

Individual and group commitment are necessary to address the harm that conversion therapy has caused. Every member of the LGBTQ+ community, along with their loved ones and allies, has a role to play in eradicating this harmful practice and supporting those who have been affected by it. Here’s how you can make a difference:

Educate Yourself: The first step in combating conversion therapy is to educate yourself about its dangers. Understanding the history, methods, and impacts of conversion therapy can help you recognize its harmful effects and share this knowledge with others. By spreading awareness, you can help dismantle the misconceptions that fuel this practice and empower others to join the fight against it.

Support LGBTQ+ Organizations: Many organizations are dedicated to ending conversion therapy and providing support to LGBTQ+ individuals. By donating to these organizations, you can help fund their crucial work. These organizations provide resources, advocacy, and support services that can have a big impact on the lives of those who receive conversion therapy. Consider supporting groups like The Trevor Project, GLSEN, and the Human Rights Campaign, which are actively working to protect LGBTQ+ rights and mental health.

Advocate for Change: Advocacy is a powerful tool in the fight against conversion therapy. Contact your elected officials and urge them to support legislation banning conversion therapy. In the United States, 20 states and Washington, D.C. have already banned conversion therapy for minors, but there is still much work to be done. By voicing your support for these bans and advocating for stronger protections, you can help ensure that no one else has to endure the trauma of conversion therapy.

Seek Support: If you or someone you know has been affected by conversion therapy, it’s important to seek support. There are resources available through LGBTQ+ organizations and mental health professionals who can provide the help you need. Healing from the trauma of conversion therapy can be a long and difficult process, but you don’t have to go through it alone. Reach out to support groups, counselors, and community organizations that understand the unique challenges faced by LGBTQ+ individuals.

The Bottom Line

As we delve into the intricate history and damaging effects of conversion therapy, it’s important to remember the power of community and support. The transgender community, along with our allies, has shown immense strength and resilience in the face of adversity. Despite the challenges we face, our shared experiences and mutual support make us a formidable force against harmful practices like conversion therapy.

Remember, you are not alone. The transgender community is strong, resilient, and beautiful. You deserve love, acceptance, and support for who you are. Conversion therapy is wrong, and it has no place in our society. By standing together and supporting one another, we can continue to build a world where everyone is free to be their authentic selves.

The fight against conversion therapy is a collective effort that requires persistence, compassion, and education. As we support each other and advocate for the rights and dignity of LGBTQ+ individuals, we send a clear message: love and acceptance will always triumph over fear and hatred. Let’s work together to ensure that every member of our community feels valued and accepted, just as they are.

Bricki
Brickihttps://transvitae.com
Founder of TransVitae, her life and work celebrate diversity and promote self-love. She believes in the power of information and community to inspire positive change and perceptions of the transgender community.
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