Sep 252012

Gov. Jerry Brown has the opportunity to prevent California’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth from experiencing psychological abuse.

By signing Senate Bill 1172 he has the ability to stop state licensed therapists from engaging in behavior known to be not only ineffective, but dangerous for young Californians. The bill, which would ban therapists from trying to change the sexual orientation of a minor, has passed both the California State Senate and Assembly and is now awaiting his signature.

It is well settled that sexual orientation is an immutable characteristic and cannot be changed and that conversion “treatment” is both ineffective and harmful. Despite this, California continues to allow state-licensed therapists to falsely claim that they can change a person’s sexual orientation and subject young people to cruel “treatments.”

Over the past 50 years, young LGBT individuals have been subjected to a tremendous variety of cruel, dehumanizing, and bizarre aversion treatments that have been used in an attempt to change their sexual orientation. These practices have included verbally degrading individuals and shaming them; inducing nausea, vomiting or paralysis when the individuals experiences same-sex attraction; exposing individuals to pornography and having them inflict self-pain upon becoming aroused by same-sex images; and administering electric shock.

These practices are especially dangerous and harmful for LGBT youth, who are already at high risk of suicide and other serious health issues caused by discrimination and rejection.

In 2008, a coalition of more than a dozen of the nation’s leading child welfare organizations stated that the practices “have serious potential to harm young people because they represent the view that the sexual orientation of lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth is a mental illness or disorder, and they often frame the inability to change one’s sexual orientation as a personal and moral failure.”

This is why every mainstream medical and child welfare organization in the U.S. has issued strong warnings that these practices have no basis in science and may cause serious harms, including a heightened risk of suicide. These groups include the American Medical Association; the American Psychological Association; and the American Psychiatric Association.

The American Psychological Association has found that the reported harms caused by these practices include confusion, depression, guilt, helplessness, hopelessness, shame, social withdrawal, and increased risk of suicide.

California already protects the health of minors by banning the sale of tobacco and alcohol to them, and also prohibits them from using tanning beds. California even makes it a crime to give a minor a tattoo, even with their parents consent. Yet, California still allows state licensed therapists to make false claims and subject youth to this dangerous practice.

California has an obligation to protect our youth by also preventing individuals operating under the authority of the State from using their license in this misleading and harmful way — especially when they are putting young people’s well-being in serious danger.

California has made great strides to advance the rights of all Californians, regardless of sexual orientation. SB 1172 is another step — and a critical one — in the right direction.

Geoffrey Kors

Geoffrey Kors, a Palm Springs resident, is senior legislative and policy for analyst for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, a co-sponsor of SB 1172. Email him at



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