How Can We Outlaw Conversion Therapy in the United States?

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intro video!

Intro and Personal Interest:

Conversion therapy is a practice that aims to change an individual’s gender identity or sexual orientation, so this person becomes heterosexual and cisgender (“About Conversion Therapy”). The issue of conversion therapy today is after years of testimonies and studies showing that it does not work, it is still legal in much of the United States. Organizations such as The Trevor Project have been working for years to end this discredited practice. 

My interest in this topic began after reading Boy Erased by Garrard Conley, a memoir about his experience with conversion therapy. This book displayed the horrors of conversion therapy in a personal way that allows readers to get a glimpse of the issue. Since reading Boy Erased, I have been more aware of the destruction that conversion therapy can cause. The lack of legislation prohibiting conversion therapy affects LGBTQ+ people all over the country. With this project, I had hoped to learn about the history of conversion therapy and what steps we can take to help eliminate conversion therapy in the United States.

For the full personal interest essay, click here

History of Conversion Therapy:

While there is no defined period when conversion therapy began in the United States, it gained popularity and become a well-known practice in the early 1970s, just as the medical community began to cease referring to homosexuality as an illness (LGBTQ Rights Timeline). The concept of conversion therapy began in 1899 when a German psychiatrist claimed he turned a gay man straight through the use of hypnosis (Blakemore). In the late 19th century, many scientists had begun to look for a cure for homosexuality and created theories about why people were gay. Some scientists believed that homosexuality was a physical disorder, and could be fixed with surgery, while others believed it was a mental illness (Blakemore). One thing numerous scientists could agree on was: homosexuality was a disease and needed to be cured. Currently, the medical community and most of the general public are aware that conversion therapy is an outdated, discredited practice that does more harm than good.

For the full historical essay, click here

interactive map of leglislation regarding conversion therapy!

Responses to Help Ban Conversion Therapy:

Conversion therapy is still legal in the majoriy of the United States and efforts to ban it have fallen short because many conversion therapy groups are religious organizations that have religious protection granted by the constitution. However, in New Jersey, human rights organizations found a way around this protection by using a consumer fraud complaint. Because conversion therapy is advertised in media, “the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) jointly filed a federal consumer fraud complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). They argue that conversion therapy isn’t just harmful; it’s a clear case of false advertising” (Rogers). According to the HRC, NCLR, and SPLC, “conversion therapy should be considered illegal under Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act, which prohibits ‘unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce’” because it claims to change people’s sexualities and gender identities when it does not. (Rogers). If the Federal Trade Commission determines that conversion therapy is deceptive from the perspective of the consumer, conversion therapy organizations could face legal repercussions, or be banned entirely. 

This is just one example of action steps that can be taken to ban conversion therapy. Other action steps that can be taken individually include, signing petitions, spreading awareness of the fact that conversion therapy is still an issue, and reaching out to legislators in places where conversion therapy is present. Steps that I have taken have been signing a petition on change.org (linked below), and with this project hope to spread awareness about conversion therapy and its presence in the United States today.

For the full current problem/solutions essay, click here

Feedback!

  • Do you have any other ideas for solutions to help ban conversion therapy?
  • If you are from the United States, what does the conversion therapy legislation look like in your state?
  • If you are not from the United States, have you looked into conversion therapy legislation where you live, what do they look like?

Feel free to leave any other comments or feedback!

Works Cited and Consulted

2 Comments
Sabrina_65

Sabrina_65

Student at Head-Royce School, Oakland, CA USA

2 comments

  1. Wow! This is such a thorough project—I can’t believe you wrote three essays. Conversion therapy one of the most dated and inhumane practices in the U.S. (although there are a lot), and it’s unjust that it’s protected under the constitution because of religious freedom. Fortunately, I live in Oregon, and conversion therapy on minors is illegal here. Our governor, Kate Brown, is also bisexual. However, it should be illegal for adults too, and there are many states that still need to outlaw conversion therapy. Since individual states have power in this situation, writing to state legislators could help spark change. It would be better for this to change on a constitutional level, but that could be years into the future. Great work!

  2. Hi Sabrina! First of all, I’d like to commend you for tackling such an important, and often overlooked topic. Conversion therapy is definitely one of the more insidious agents in our time, so insidious in fact, that so many act like it doesn’t affect LGBTQ+ folks anymore. I shared your project with one of my friends and she was surprised conversion therapy even still existed! Anyways, I love how you really outlined the history of conversion therapy. That context definitely helped ground me as a reader. One piece of advice I’d give is perhaps including a short list of other solutions, just so that the reader is able to easily look into other areas that might interest them, just at a glance. Anyways, this was an amazing project that definitely needs to be seen by so many more people.

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