Suicide Prevention Groups Demand Ban on Conversion Therapy
In April, Massachusetts became the 16th state to ban conversion therapy, the practice of attempting to change sexual orientation or gender identity, for minors
On April 8th, 2019 Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed into law a bill that protects LGBTQ children and teens from being subjected to conversion therapy, a technique used to try to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Massachusetts is the 16th state to legally prohibit licensed practitioners from using the discredited practice on youth.
This was an important step in communicating to the country that this type of therapy is not an acceptable option for youth and the first step to banning it altogether due to the harm it causes. Suicide prevention groups such as the Trevor Project, are actively working to have this type of therapy banned for both youth and adults in every U.S.state and territory.
Mental Health and Suicide in LGBTQ Youth
LGBTQ youth experience fear, hatred and prejudice in school, with peers, in the community and at home, which can lead to higher risks of self-harm and thoughts of suicide. For LGBTQ young people anxiety related to the anticipated response they’ll receive from friends and family if they reveal their sexual orientation or gender identity and discrimination and harassment experienced when they do come out are common problems.
This anxiety and negative treatment often lead to mental health issues including depression, anxiety, poor self concept and sense of self worth, posttraumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, thoughts of suicide and attempted suicide. According to NAMI (2019), LGBTQ youth are 6 times more likely than other youth to experience major depression than other youth, a common risk factor for suicide.
For LGBTQ youth and young adults aged 10–24, suicide is one of the leading causes of death. Compared to heterosexualyouth, those questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity are three times more likely while those who have already identified as LGBTQ are four times more likely to engage in self harm or have thoughts of or attempt suicide. Between 38–65% of transgender youth report suicidal ideation.
Families play a crucial role in suicidal ideation in youth. Those who experience rejection after revealing their sexual orientation or gender identity are over eight times more likely to attempt suicide, over five times more likely to report high levels of depression, over three times more likely to use illegal drugs, and over three times more likely to engage in unprotected sexual intercourse than those youth who were accepted by their family after coming out.
Trying to force a child to change their sexual orientation or gender identity clearly communicates more than just rejection. It communicates that under no circumstances is such an orientation or identity allowed to exist. Often, an attribution of sinfulness is added which can make the youth feel as if this is a principle set forth by God.
Suicide Ideation in LGBTQ Youth Forced to Attend Conversion Therapy
As high as the numbers of LGBTQ youth attempting suicide are, those who do so during or after being subjected to conversion therapy are even higher. A 2018 study found that the rate of suicide attempts by LGBTQ young whose parents tried to change their sexual orientation was over twice that LGBTQ youth who reported no such efforts. When both home based and standard therapy or religions based interventions were used, the rates of suicide for LGBTQ youth was triple that of youth who didn’t experience such efforts.
U.S. Professional Organization Opposed to Conversion Therapy
Due to the proven harm conversion therapy results in for youth and adults alike, the intervention is almost universally and vehemently opposed by prominent professional medical associations including the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the American Academy of Pediatrics among many others. You can find a list of organization opposing Conversion Therapy in the U.S. here.
The Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ youth, is invested in ending conversion therapy in every state.
States That Have Legally Banned the Use of Conversion Therapy With Youth
Massachusetts became the 16th State along with Washington D.C. to pass legislation prohibiting conversion therapy for minors. The states that currently ban this practice with youth include:
Here are the 16 states that have passed bans:
- California (2012)
- New Jersey (2013)
- Oregon (2015)
- Illinois (2015)
- Vermont (2016)
- Rhode Island (2017)
- New Mexico (2017)
- Connecticut (2017)
- Nevada (2017)
- Washington (2018)
- Maryland (2018)
- Hawaii (2018)
- New Hampshire (2018)
- Delaware (2018)
- New York (2019)
- Massachusetts (2019)
Washington D.C. passed a law banning conversion therapy with minors in 2018 and in 2019 extended the protection to those over 18 with a legal guardian or anyone who otherwise would be unable to legally provide consent. There are also a number of cities that have banned the use of conversion therapy with minors although the ban is not yet statewide, such as Denver, CO that banned the practice in January of 2019.
To date over 700,000 Americans have undergone conversion therapy. More than 350,000 of those received the therapy when they were minors.
See what you can do to help legislation get passed in your city or state here.
Resources from the CDC, other government agencies, and community organizations for LGBT Youth, their friends, educators, parents, and family members can be found here.
The Survivor Network has a collection of Survivor Stories of youth forced to undergo conversion therapy.
LGBT youth in crisis should contact The Trevor Project Lifeline at 1–866–488–7386. If you are having thoughts of harming yourself you should immediately go to your nearest emergency room.
NAMI, (2019). LGBTQ. Retrieved from https://www.nami.org/find-support/lgbtq.
Natalie C. Frank has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology. Her areas of specialization is pediatrics and behavioral health.
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