In December, the petite island country of Malta became the first European country to outright ban gay conversion therapy. Pittsburgh followed suit a few days later and became the first city in the state of Pennsylvania to ban conversion therapy on minors. Currently five states, Washington, D.C. and a few cities (Miami, Cincinnati and Seattle) prohibit conversion therapy for minors, which has plagued Vice President-elect Mike Pence since his first day on the campaign trail. For those unfamiliar, conversion therapy, sometimes called “reparation therapy,” attempts to change someone’s sexual orientation from gay to straight through discredited psychological treatments, electroshock therapy or false counseling. Advocates of the practice often target LGBTQ youth specifically. Yes, this is still very much practiced in the United States.
In the Trump era, with an anti-LGBT advocate holding the second highest office, the legality of conversion therapy is up in the area, despite sporadic bans. While a Pence spokesperson has denied that Indiana Governor Pence ever supported specific methodologies, when Pence was running for Congress in 2000, he did support redirecting federal money for HIV/AIDS treatment “toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.”
Conversion therapy is widely condemned by official medical organizations.
The practice dates back centuries, and unconfirmed reports of conversion via icepick lobotomies and chemical castrations are rampant on the internet. In the 1920s, the founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, came up with the idea that “homosexuality could sometimes be removed through hypnotic suggestion.” The entire concept is now widely condemned by official medical organizations, including the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association. These organizations have made it clear that such therapy is predicated on the fallacy that “homosexuality is a disorder.”
In April 2015, President Obama’s administration took a stance on the issue, responding to an online petition arguing for its ban by saying, “We share your concern about its potentially devastating effects on the lives of transgender as well as gay, lesbian, bisexual, and queer youth.” But with a whole new government taking over, the threat of a campaign to turn gays, lesbians and the transgender community straight—or otherwise limit their visibility—is very real. The queer community fears that Pence, a hard-right conservative, could pressure Trump to cut funding for AIDS research and treatment and ignore Title IX protections. It’s not exaggerating to suggest he could slip in a mandate preserving the legality of conversion therapy before the healthcare bill goes up for vote. LGBTQ youth have a legitimate worry.
You might not be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, but picture for a second another kind of dystopia. Imagine the government has decided that it will forcibly turn you, or your children, homosexual via all kinds of Dr. Frankenstein maneuvers, because its religion-based credo suggests it’s allowed to regulate who you love. You’d be acting out and saying something.
The reverse is our reality. Today, if a guidance counselor, church pastor or private school official shares Pence’s views, there’s no law forbidding them from trying to alter an adolescent’s sexuality without parental consent with a form “corrective” therapy. For now, all the LGBT community can do is make sure we can hold the ear of the Education secretary Betsy DeVos, who is grey on LGBT issues, and make sure she’s aware of the severity.