Change we can’t believe in
California was right to pass a law prohibiting minors from being exposed to sexuality conversion therapies
As support for gay marriage grows more popular in the United States, it is fitting that the topic of youth sexuality is also becoming more closely examined. Recently, California passed a state law that would block therapists from meddling with the sexual orientation of minors. Going into effect January 1st, the law states that health professionals are prohibited from attempting to “change behaviors or gender expressions, or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same sex.” Such a law is very appropriate, and other states should also enact similar legislation.
Unsurprisingly, there are therapists and religious figures who oppose the law. According to them, limiting access to therapies geared toward changing homosexuality is a violation of free choice. If the California law had been banning those treatments for people of any age, perhaps they would have a viable point. Those of adult age should be free to make their own personal decisions. As it stands, though, the law was enacted to serve minors — and fortunately so. There is no way that a minor should be forced to endure or be convinced that non-scientific conversion therapies are beneficial options. It is for the best that the law is on the side of minors, who may otherwise have been dragged into therapy by their parents or others who have legal guardianship over them.
No matter how hard proponents of conversion therapies vouch for their effectiveness, there is no scientific data that sexual tendencies can be alleviated or “cured” outright. And yet conversion therapies continue to be supported somehow, most notably by religious communities. More often than not, those who attend conversion therapy ultimately leave feeling worse about themselves, filled with deeper self-loathing or depression. Such feelings are no doubt a natural response to the message of these therapies. Imagine being told that there is something wrong with the way you think and feel, and that you need to be changed. For a child or teenager in these circumstances, feeling worse about yourself is almost inevitable.
Forcing a young person to undergo conversion therapy, then, is abominable. This is especially true because adolescence and young adulthood is when many people struggle with their identities. It is not surprising that depression and suicides among youth are tragically common. What young people need most is a way to develop personally with support and encouragement. They should not be forced to deny who they really are. Additionally, minors need to be protected from the hubris of therapists who believe they can change something that research is increasingly showing is biologically based. The very idea that being gay is purely a lifestyle choice is absurd. It is totally illogical to deduce that children choose to be gay or lesbian when it frequently results in discrimination and personal problems.
The California law is commendable, and actually helps to supplement already established movements that seek to help young people who are troubled about their sexual orientation. Perhaps most notable among these movements is the “It Gets Better” Project. The project, started by Dan Savage and Terry Miller, a gay couple, seeks to encourage young people who are having doubts about their sexuality that they will eventually feel better as they get older. The project involves mainly videos from people of all sexual orientations who encourage gay youth to ignore bullying or teasing and to persevere. Many celebrities and prominent public figures have also joined the campaign, from President Obama to Stephen Colbert to Kermit the Frog.
The California law does not prevent adults from voluntarily seeking out conversion therapies on their own. But hopefully they will not do so. That is why initiatives like Savage’s should be strongly promoted. With any luck, as acceptance of young gays and lesbians becomes more ubiquitous, the desire for conversion therapy or similar “cures” will be eliminated. It is not gay and lesbian youth who need to change; those who are intolerant of different sexual orientations are the ones who should alter their beliefs.
_Alex Yahanda is a senior associate editor for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at