Metro Weekly

Congressional Democrats Seek Ban on Conversion Therapy

The bill would federally outlaw the practice of conversion therapy as a form of consumer fraud.

Photo: Jon Tyson, via Unsplash.

Democratic lawmakers have introduced a bill in Congress that seeks to ban conversion therapy at the federal level by prohibiting the practice and declaring it a form of consumer fraud.

The Therapeutic Fraud Prevention Act, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) in the House of Representatives and Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) in the Senate, would outlaw the practice of conversion therapy for all Americans — not just minors, as 22 state-level bans do.

The bill would make it illegal for any person — not just licensed medical providers — to provide conversion therapy to any individual, to advertise conversion therapy services claiming to successfully change another individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity, or assist in providing conversion therapy by referring people to practitioners in exchange for compensation.

If passed, the bill would also define conversion therapy — or advertisements claiming that it changes one’s identity, reduces sexual or romantic attractions to individuals of the same sex, or purports that such efforts pose no risk to people’s well-being —  as an “unfair or deceptive act or practice” under the Federal Trade Commission Act.

Moreover, state attorneys general would be allowed to sue practitioners if they believe conversion therapy — or the advertisement of conversion therapy — is having a detrimental impact on the residents of their state.

In a press release, the sponsors of the bill asserted that the premise behind conversion therapy — that one can change one’s sexual orientation or gender identity or reduce their feelings of attraction by undergoing the therapy — is based on “bunk science” and may have long-term negative psychological or emotional impacts on those subjected to it.

“Conversion therapy is a harmful sham that hurts LGBTQIA+ youth and turns a profit for scammers posing as mental health professionals,” Lieu said in a statement. “Numerous major medical organizations have concluded that the practice has no validity and is based entirely on fake science.

“I’m pleased that many states have joined our movement and enacted conversion therapy bans. Now it’s time to end this scam once and for all and pass a federal ban.”

Lieu and Murray previously introduced similar bills in Congress in 2019 and 2021.

In 2012, Lieu, as a state senator in California, authored a ban prohibiting the practice on minors.

In 2018, a California Assembly member introduced a state-level bill to declare conversion therapy — for people of any age — to be a fraudulent practice, but eventually pulled the bill over criticisms that it was overly broad and might violate the religious beliefs of those with anti-LGBTQ views.

“Conversion therapy is not just harmful and inhumane, but the practice has been rejected by countless reputable medical and mental health organizations,” Booker said in a statement. “We must treat all people, regardless of their gender and sexual orientation, with compassion and allow them to express themselves without fear. I am proud to join my colleagues in introducing this bill that will ban this cruel and dangerous practice.”

Most major medical and mental health organizations have declared conversion therapy ineffective at delivering on its promises — namely, a purported “change” in one’s orientation — and argue that it is not based on science.

They also claim that the overwhelming consensus of past research looking into the issue has been that conversion therapy is detrimental to those subjected to it, increasing the likelihood that subjects will experience depression, feelings of isolation, and may exacerbate feelings of suicidal ideation. 

“States and counties across the nation — and a growing number of countries — have taken steps to end harmful sexual orientation and gender identity change efforts,” Arthur Evans Jr., the CEO of the American Psychological Association, said in a statement.

“In 2009, APA published a groundbreaking report that evaluated all available research on these practices and concluded that they don’t work as portrayed and can cause harm. Research since then has only reinforced that finding,” Evans added. “The Therapeutic Fraud Prevention Act protects LGBTQ+ adolescents and adults by making it unlawful for anyone, especially those with no mental health training, from engaging in these practices. The bill would expand current bans around the U.S. that only apply to licensed mental health providers.”

“Research as consistently demonstrated that conversion therapy for LGBTQ+ people is not only exceptionally harmful, but also completely ineffective,” Dr. Celeste Malone, the president of the National Association of School Psychologists, said in a statement.

“As school-based mental health professionals, we have a legal, moral, and ethical obligation to optimize the mental health and academic success of all students, including LGBTQ+ students. This bill will assist in these efforts and help protect children and youth from invalidating and traumatizing practices.”

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