Metro Weekly

California On Verge of Banning Gay Conversion Therapy


California lawmakers took another step toward banning conversion and reparative therapy that targets LGBT children and teenagers on Tuesday.

The state Assembly, which is controlled by Democrats, approved a bill 52-22 yesterday that would prohibit children under the age of 18 from undergoing “sexual orientation change efforts” at the hands of licensed therapists who intend to “cure” them of homosexuality.

While Republican opponents argued that conversion therapy should be something decided by medical boards and that the bill infringes on the rights of parents to choose what is in the best interests of their children, opponents said conversion therapy amounted to abuse.

John Pérez, the first out gay speaker of the California Assembly, said the bill would protect children from activists that “put their lives at risk.”

Noting suicide rates among LGBT youth, Pérez said the legislature has been clear in the past where it stands on abuse.

“It is inappropriate for anybody, even parents, to subject children to dehumanizing activity,” Pérez said, adding, “This, in my opinion, is an abusive practice in the guise of therapy.”

The bill comes four months after 80-year-old psychiatrist Dr. Robert Spitzer retracted a controversial 2001 study that stated gay people that were motivated enough could change their sexual orientation. Spitzer also issued an apology to his former patients and the LGBT community.

Democratic state Sen. Ted Lieu, who is the original sponsor of the bill, said in a statement, “It’s heartening to see the majority of the Assembly agrees that this kind of so-called ‘treatment’ essentially is psychological abuse of children.”

Executive Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Kate Kendell, also praised the legislature’s actions, stating, “The time is long overdue for the legislature to take action to stop the severe harms being inflicted on young people and their families by these dangerous practices.”

Kendell added that gay conversion therapy has largely been discredited by the medical community.

Although the amended bill must still be approved by the state Senate before midnight on Aug. 31, it seems likely the upper chamber will do so. In May the Senate voted 23-13 to approve their own version of the bill.

After the Senate’s approval, the bill will head to Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk for approval. Brown has not yet indicated whether he will sign the bill into law.

In a letter sent on Tuesday, Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin encouraged Brown to support the law.

“It is time to safeguard the most vulnerable among us by ending the abusive practice of subjecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth to damaging attempts to change their sexual orientation or gender expression,” Griffin wrote. “Research has shown that far from being beneficial or even neutral, these efforts have harmful effects on the participants.”

Griffin added that Brown’s support “would send a strong message to LGBT youth everywhere that their lives are valuable and they are perfect just the way they are.”

According to a Reuters, a spokesperson for Brown said the governor would not comment on pending legislation. If the bill receives Brown’s signature, California would become the first state in the nation to ban gay conversion therapy.

[Photo: Gov. Jerry Brown (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).]

Justin Snow is Metro Weekly's former political editor and White House correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @JustinCSnow.