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The American Psychological Association has adopted a new resolution opposing conversion therapy intended to change a person’s gender identity, a victory for advocates who have sought to ban the practice in various states throughout the country.
The APA also updated its 1997 resolution opposing conversion therapy designed to change a person’s sexual orientation, and cited the negative impact that conversion therapy, in any form, may have on LGBTQ youths’ mental health and well-being. The APA also adopted new guidelines on the importance of recognizing intersectional identities, such as being Black and gay, for example.
In its resolution on gender identity, issued March 2, the APA notes that gender identity change efforts (GICE) and sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) are often based on the premise that lack of conformity to traditional gender roles or diverse sexual orientations are sinful, a sign of mental illness, or harmful.
It also notes that conversion therapies or treatments designed to alter or change gender identity or sexual orientation are “inaccurate and inappropriate because, the incongruence between sex and gender in and of itself is not a mental disorder.”
The resolution also says that gender identity change efforts “are founded on the notion that any gender identity that is not concordant with sex assigned at birth is disordered, and that a cisgender identity is healthier, preferable, and superior to a transgender or gender nonbinary identity.
“GICE cause harm by reinforcing anti-transgender and anti-gender nonbinary stigma and discrimination; and by creating social pressure on an individual to conform to an identity and/or presentation that may not be consistent with their sense of self.”
As a result, the resolution concludes that the APA opposes the idea that “incongruence between sex and gender is a mental disorder,” that gender identity change efforts cause harm, that transgender and nonbinary identities, are normal variations in human expression of gender, and that pursuing gender-affirming medical care does not constitute evidence of a mental disorder.
The organization also supports professional training in gender-affirming practices and “opposes professional training in GICE in any stage of the education of psychologists, including graduate training, continuing education, and professional development.”
LGBTQ advocates praised the APA’s resolution, noting that it is significant that another professional mental health organization has come out in favor of banning conversion therapy.
The resolution comes at a time when debates over gender identity have become one of the nation’s fault lines, with conservatives seeking to pass legislation at the state level to bar transgender athletes from sports or deny transgender youth access to gender-affirming care.
In Arizona, liberal lawmakers have introduced a bill to ban conversion therapy, while their conservative counterparts have sought to block municipalities from enacting such bans.
“When transgender and nonbinary young people are pressured to conform to the sex they were assigned at birth and abide by society’s rigid gender norms, it can be incredibly harmful to their mental health and sense of self, and contribute to increased risk for suicide,” Sam Brinton, the vice president of advocacy and government affairs at The Trevor Project, said in a statement.
“That’s why we must come together to end the dangerous and discredited practice of conversion therapy and to stop these proposed bans on gender-affirming medical care from becoming the law of the land.”
A 2020 survey of over 40,000 LGBTQ youth conducted by The Trevor Project found that 10% of respondents reported being subjected to conversion therapy at the hands of health care professionals or religious leaders.
The organization also released a peer-reviewed study finding that LGBTQ youth who underwent conversion therapy were more than twice as likely to report having attempted suicide and more than 2.5 times as likely to report multiple suicide attempts in the past year.
The National Black Justice Coalition, a civil rights organization that advocates on behalf of Black LGBTQ and same-gender-loving people, also praised the APA’s resolutions.
“The clear acknowledgement that diverse expressions of gender identity and gender expression — which are distinct from, and too often conflated with, the sex that a doctor assigns at birth — are not mental disorders, affirms and will save lives,” David Johns, the executive director of NBJC, said in a statement.
Johns noted that Western-based medical-model narratives of gender define it as binary concept based solely on physiological differences, attribute certain behaviors or attributes to specific genders, create systems that label cisgender identities and expressions as “normal,” and discriminate against those who do not conform to such labels.
“We are thrilled that the world is becoming a safer place for young people whose gender identities and/or gender expressions haven’t fit into outdated ideas about ‘normalcy,'” Dr. Kia Darling-Hammond, the director of education programs at NBJC, said in a statement. “We also know that there’s more work to do. All of us carry biases of some kind or another and all of us can overcome them with some effort.”
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