Rejection from family or religious institutions over sexual orientation or gender identity can be among the most challenging issues a young person faces. Many are either forced into so-called “conversion therapy” treatment by relatives, or they choose it themselves in a desperate attempt to meet others’ expectations.
This is why Senate Bill 1028 and House Bill 902 are so important: They will begin the end of the destructive practice in Maryland.
Conversion therapy, also referred to as reparative therapy, employs a multitude of methods to “change” a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Those methods can include behavior modification techniques, aversion practices (such as inducing vomiting when gay or lesbian sexual images are shown), electroshock and physical abuse.
As health care providers and leaders, we know that conversion therapy is a coercive practice with no scientific relevance or basis, and with “successes” only attributable to the patient’s ability to avoid their feelings and reject their true self in order to appear heterosexual or to identify with their birth sex.
Such conversion therapy is often sought by the family of a child whose sexual orientation or gender identity may conflict with the beliefs of the family or trigger fears of what the future might hold for the child. While the family may have the best of intentions in seeking this therapy, the outcome can be exceedingly dangerous.
Survivors of this type of therapy detail the trauma of the process itself, the injury to family stability and the irreparable harm done to their identity and confidence. They often, consistently and repeatedly, remark that their inability to “convert” created a dual life in which they pretended to change, but internally battled self-hate and suicidal ideations. Ultimately, the consequences of this practice include self-loathing, depression, substance use, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), self-harm and even suicide.
The practice of conversion therapy has continued in large part because our culture is still catching up with the variety of the human experience we know has been a part of human existence since time immemorial.
Evidence has shown that gender (aka: boy or girl) is something our culture has defined, and transgender and gender nonconforming individuals are demonstrating normal and positive expressions of what gender may or may not be. Similarly, bi- or same-sex sexual orientations are, in fact, normal and positive variations of human sexuality.
In fact, the American Psychological Association, the American Medical Association and countless other national and international respected, research- and evidence-focused health care organizations agree that conversion therapy is not an allowable care option and do not endorse or support the practice.
Further, these organizations back what the federal government’s Substance Use and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) reported in 2015, that “variation in sexual orientation and gender identity are normal and that conversion therapies or other efforts to change sexual orientation or gender identity are not effective, are harmful, and are not appropriate therapeutic practices.”
Families and guardians, institutions and individuals need our community to be a safe space for all our diverse community members. Instead of seeking to repair what is not broken, we must find ways to engage families in the dialogue about what is normal, acceptable and inherent. We can be the path to a future in which dysfunction ends and true self-acceptance and care begins. Help us by supporting Maryland Senate Bill 1028 and Maryland House Bill 902.
Dr. Adrian Long is the interim chief medical officer at Chase Brexton Health Care, where Suzanne Linkroum is assistant vice president of behavioral health. They may be reached at email@example.com.