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Op-Ed: Ending conversion therapy for LGBT youth

May 02, 2014|By Morgan McKay

Kirk Murphy was 5 years old when his mother took him to see a therapist. She was concerned because he liked to play with girl’s toys. The therapist assured his mother that he could help Kirk act more like a boy. After 10 months of treatment that included sexual experiments and physical abuse, the therapist decided that Kirk was cured of his feminine tendencies. However, Kirk never recovered from the therapy he was subjected to as a child. In 2011, at the age of 38, Kirk Murphy killed himself.

Unfortunately, stories like Kirk’s are not uncommon. Conversion therapy techniques, like the ones Kirk was forced to endure, are aimed at changing a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity from homosexual to heterosexual. Conversion therapy is an outdated practice that causes significant harm to the mental and emotional health of LGBT youth, but it is still being used on LGBT youth in the United States. LGBT youth view conversion therapy as a form of rejection, which causes them to be 8.4 times more likely to think about committing or attempt to commit suicide, 5.9 times more likely to experience depression and feelings of hopelessness, and 3.4 times more likely to turn to alcohol and illegal drugs as a coping mechanism than their heterosexual peers.

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LGBT youth do not have to be subjected to conversion therapy to be affected. A study found that perceived discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity can be just as harmful as direct maltreatment for LGBT youth. Burbank High School has a Gay-Straight Alliance club; simply knowing that a therapy exists that seeks to change who they are, because some people believe that being LGBT is a mental disorder, is enough to have detrimental effects on the mental health of these youth and other LGBT youth in Burbank

In December 2013, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA 14th District) introduced the Stop Harming Our Kids Resolution of 2013 in the U.S. Congress. The bill encourages states to ban licensed mental health providers, medical providers and counselors from practicing conversion therapy because it is harmful, unsafe and ineffective. Many states support the ban: Legislation to ban conversion therapy has passed in California and New Jersey, and has been proposed in Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Bans on conversion therapy are also supported by many leading health and mental health organizations including the American Psychological Assn., the American Medical Assn. and the National Assn. of Social Workers. These organizations have guidelines that prohibit their members from using conversion therapy practices because it has no scientific merit and simply does not work.

Higher rates of suicide, depression, and alcohol and drug abuse prove LGBT youth are being harmed by this and other practices that perpetuate a view of homosexuality as a mental illness or disorder that can be cured. Banning conversion therapy from being practiced on LGBT youth will be another step taken toward creating an atmosphere of acceptance that is essential in helping them develop into healthy and productive adults. Ending the harmful practice will prove to LGBT youth that homosexuality and variations of gender identity are normal expressions of the human experience.

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MORGAN McKAY is a resident of Burbank and a graduate student at the USC-VAC-School of Social Work. Email McKay at morganmc@usc.edu.

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