California governor Jerry Brown used the term “junk science” in reference to gay conversion therapy and enthusiastically shoved it into “the dustbin of quackery” when he signed a ban on the practice Saturday. Senate bill 1172, which was co-sponsored by a multitude of gay rights activist groups, bans the use of gay conversion therapy on minors.
The Human Rights Council obtained over 50,000 signatures in just one week on a petition to pass the bill. Brown did not need much convincing, as he made it clear that he does not believe there is any scientific basis in conversion therapy, but the HRC was significant support when there were so many critics of the bill. Organizations like the Pacific Justice Institute (California), the Liberty Counsel (Florida) and the National Association for Research and Therapy on Homosexuality are committed to their rejection of the bill. Their claims are that the legislation demonstrates “legislative over-reach” and restricts the ability of parents wanting guidance for children with gender confusion. Some argue it is a breach of the First Amendment and equal protection rights.
Gay conversion therapy has its roots in 1920s psychology, which centered around the idea that homosexuality was both perverse and treatable. Of course this is a vast generalization -- there were and are many psychoanalysts who disagree. Yet homosexuality was, for a significant period of time, largely considered a dangerous and unwanted medical condition. Gay conversion therapy was developed in an attempt to cure homosexuals of their condition through counseling, shock therapy and even exorcism. Prostitution, hypnosis and transplants were also tested as therapy. Needless to say, people were resorting to extreme measures to turn gay people straight.
Mental health groups and gay rights activists alike agree for certain: gay conversion therapy is junk science. There is no scientific proof that it works and even more importantly, there is plenty of evidence that it is extremely destructive to both the individuals subjected to it and their families. To cite one specific example, psychotherapist Chana Wilson has made public her childhood, which was dominated by depression and her mother’s suicide attempts, all results of the gay conversion therapy that her mother was pressured into. Wilson commends the steps that California is taking to ban this practice for minors who, up until now, could be subjected to the treatments if authorized by their guardians. California leads the movement away from gay conversion therapy with the support of the American Psychological Association, the American Counseling Association, and the American Psychiatric Association, all of whom agree on the futility and destructiveness of the practice. With moves like these, the U.S. may be well on its way to a more accepting view of homosexuality and a strong rejection of practices that have proven damaging to the mental health and general well-being of a significant population in our society.