Metro Weekly

Lieu bill would classify gay conversion therapy as “fraud”

Los Angeles-area congressman, author of California's ban, takes aim at for-profit conversion therapists

U.S. Rep. Ted Lieu, D--Calif. (Credit: U.S. Congress, via Wikimedia Commons.)

U.S. Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif. (Credit: U.S. Congress, via Wikimedia Commons.)

Amid an increase in public support for banning the practice conversion therapy on minors, and news this week that Oregon has become the third state and fourth jurisdiction overall to institute such a ban, U.S. Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) has introduced the first federal bill aimed at stopping the practice.

Although Lieu’s bill would not specifically prohibit conversion therapy per se, the Therapeutic Fraud Prevention Act (TFPA) would essentially put the brakes on the practice by licensed therapists across the nation by making them the target of litigation. Specifically, TFPA would amend the Federal Trade Commission Act to classify for-profit conversion therapy, and its promises to change people’s sexual orientation or gender identity, as “fraud.” As a result, the Federal Trade Commission would be allowed to enforce the legislation, and practitioners of conversion therapy could be sued. 

Lieu, the author of the bill that made California the first state to ban conversion therapy for minors in 2012, insists that his bill would provide some religious protections and would not attack First Amendment rights regarding a person’s opinion about homosexuality or gender identity, even as he called conversion therapy an “abusive practice.”

“The truth is that being LGBT cannot be and does not need to be cured,” Lieu said in a statement. “The irony of the conversion therapy industry is that the same people who are telling LGBT kids that they’re diseased are the same ones conveniently offering a high-priced, high-risk, ineffective cure. Conversion therapy sessions and materials are incredibly expensive, costing families thousands of dollars and offering no results. It’s a dangerous scam, and the government must act to protect LGBT Americans from fraudsters who take their money and lie to them.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

Lieu’s bill has received support not only from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, the leader of congressional Democrats, but from a number of prominent organizations including the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), whose #BornPerfect campaign has been pushing for an end to conversion therapy.

“Being LGBT is not an illness,” Pelosi said. “It does not require a cure. So-called ‘conversion therapy’ is not medicine, it is not right, and it has no place in America. We cannot and will not allow conversion therapy peddlers to continue to profit from the abuse of LGBT children and adults.

“Ending conversion therapy is a vital step to ensuring that all families have the safety and security needed to keep improving and strengthening our country,” she continued. “As we answer President Obama’s call to end conversion therapy, we must all do our part to create a stronger, more just, and welcoming environment for all our families.”

“This visionary bill will not only ensure that no person can profit from peddling services based on blatantly fraudulent claims about sexual orientation or gender identity,  it will save lives and send a clear message to every child in the country, no matter who they are or where they live, that they were born perfect,” said NCLR #BornPerfect Campaign Coordinator and Staff Attorney Samantha Ames. 

“This vitally important legislation has the potential to save countless lives across this country by helping to end the practice that uses fear and shame to tell LGBT people the only way to find love or acceptance is to change the very nature of who they are,” David Stacy, HRC’s government affairs director, said in a statement. “…Ending this harmful profit-making practice is something that all of Congress should be able to rally behind.”

Lieu has introduced his bill at an opportune time, just weeks before a first-of-its-kind trial involving a lawsuit against a group that had performed conversion therapy on minors. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a civil rights advocacy group, has brought a lawsuit on behalf of former clients and parents of former clients of Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH), alleging that JONAH violated New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act through “deceptive practices” by promising to change the clients’ sexual orientation through therapies carrying an expensive price tag, and by misrepresenting homosexuality as something that can be changed or cured. If the SPLC wins its case, it could provide more momentum for Lieu’s bill, or could encourage other opponents of conversion therapy to pursue future bans by attacking the practice from the angle of going after consumer fraud rather than focusing on LGBT rights.

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com