Conversion Therapy: Dangerous and in Need of Banning—Take It From Someone Who Learned the Hard Way

By Paul Carlos Southwick of Portland, Oregon. Paul is an attorney that specializes in commercial and civil rights litigation.

I joined Basic Rights Oregon at the Oregon House Health Committee on Health Care to testify in support of House Bill 2307—the Youth Mental Health Protection Act. If the bill is ultimately signed into law, Oregon will join two other states and Washington, D.C. in preventing licensed mental health professionals from practicing Conversion Therapy on youth. For those unfamiliar with the term, Conversion Therapy is a range of practices aimed at changing someone’s sexual orientation or suppressing a person’s gender identity.

Whoa, right? Haven’t such “treatments” been completely discredited as harmful? Does that stuff really still happen in this day and age? Is this law really necessary? Yes, and yes, and yes. Take it from someone who spent two years in the “care” of therapists whose goal it was to “cure” me of being a gay man.

These practices have been discredited. In fact, every major national mental health organization (representing more than 480,000 mental health professionals) has taken the position that being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender is not a mental disorder and thus is not something that can or should be “cured.”

As a 20 year-old college student at George Fox University—a Christian college here in Oregon—my same-sex attractions were causing me such anxiety that I started having fullblown panic attacks. I needed help, so I turned to professionals who I trusted to help me. I went through three rounds of Conversion Therapy—first at my on-campus counseling center, then with a licensed therapist in private practice, and finally through the Portland Fellowship—an ex-gay program in Southeast Portland. I attended that last one for two years, with a promise of graduating “cured of homosexuality.” I didn’t attend my graduation ceremony because the anxiety and depression I experienced during my panic attacks had only intensified during the program, and my sexual attraction to men had not diminished.

When you are in conversion therapy, you are taught that you have a sickness, a pathology, and that you need a cure. When the cure never comes, you are left even more anxious, hopeless and ashamed than when you started. Many well-intentioned parents simply have no idea how to support a child who is gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender—so they understandably turn to a trusted professional. What happens if they are taken in by the snake-oil salesmen of the Conversion Therapy industry? Terrible harm to their children, that’s what.

It took tremendous strength to overcome the years of shame that were heaped on me in Conversion Therapy. Just imagine how hard that would be for a vulnerable and confused youth. Together, we as Oregonians have a responsibility to protect our youth from being forced or coerced into treatment that is proven to inflict such deep emotional harm. Please join me—and the vast majority of mental health professionals who provide care that is both ethical and affirming—in supporting House Bill 2307, the Youth Mental Health Protection Act.

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