The year of 2014 was groundbreaking, not in its treatment of LGBTQ people, but in the media coverage of LGBTQ issues. Highly contentious issues, such as same sex marriage and transgender military service, were addressed by the media with more frequency and depth than ever before. One of the most serious issues, conversion therapy for members of the LGBTQ community, became a nationally recognized problem for the LGBTQ community after Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teenager in Ohio, committed suicide, citing the transphobic therapies her parents forced her to go through and the resulting depression and hopelessness she felt.
Conversion therapy, or the belief that LGBTQ individuals can be “converted” to cisgender, heterosexual members of society, has always been regarded as highly controversial. Many studies have shown that the therapy causes huge psychological problems in LGBTQ individuals, including increased drug use, self-harm, and suicide rates. Every major psychological and organization condemns the practice, citing the lack of scientific legitimacy behind the practice. Studies conducted by apolitical organizations, such as a 2007 survey conducted by American Psychological Association, have found conversion therapists to significantly harm LGBT individuals by causing anxiety, depression, severe feelings of guilt, and body dysphoria in their clients.
Since Alcorn’s death and the pleas in her suicide note to “fix society,” petitions to the White House to ban conversion therapy have gained huge momentum, and states such as Illinois and Virginia are currently seeking to ban the practice. In the status quo, conversion therapy is legal in 48 states, including Oregon, despite its empirically proven negative effects and morally dubious practices.
Conversion therapy techniques include many practices that can potentially trigger episodes of anxiety and depression in LGBTQ individuals because of the pain, both physical and emotional, that it can cause patients.
“Physical therapy was my hands being tied down and blocks of ice being placed on my hands. Then pictures of men holding hands [were shown] to me so I would associate the concept of the pain of ice with a man touching me. It worked really, really, really well. My dad could barely even hug me anymore [because I would] scream out in pain,” Samuel Brinton, a former patient of Exodus International, the largest conversion therapy organization in the United States, said in an interview with the LGBTQ organization I Am Driftwood.
According to other former patients of conversion therapy, techniques of conversion therapists include painful electroconvulsive therapy, religious guilt, exorcism, hypnosis, emphasis on traditional gender roles, and forced heterosexual marriage.
While some, such as the Republican Party of Texas, still support conversion therapy for LGBTQ individuals, the argument for allowing conversion therapy centers around religious, not scientific or psychological rhetoric. However, because conversion therapy centers around the psychological, not the religious ramifications of being LGBTQ, many argue that conversion therapy does not fall under First Amendment rights of religious freedom.
Conversion therapy has been accused of being responsible for countless suicides, drug addictions, broken marriages, and accidental deaths, and the lack of scientific evidence to its favor has made the practice outdated and cruel. The debaters of the issue cannot pretend otherwise.