The Story: Supporters of the LGBT movement are working to ban one form of conversion therapy on minors while endorsing another.
The Background: Earlier this week, the Virginia House of Delegates passed a bill to end conversion therapy for minors. The state of Utah also recently passed a similar law. To date, 18 other states have passed similar bans.
The Utah law adds conversion therapy to a list of practices considered to be “unprofessional conduct” for state-licensed mental health therapists. Punishments could include suspending or revoking their license, according to state law.
The new rule does not apply to clergy members or religious counselors acting in a “religious capacity,” nor does it apply to parents or grandparents “acting substantially in the capacity of a parent or grandparent and not in the capacity of a mental health therapist.”
Last fall the Utah ban received support from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In a statement on the Utah Psychologist Licensing Act Rule, the LDS church issued a statement saying, “The Church denounces any therapy, including conversion and reparative therapies, that subject an individual to abusive practices, not only in Utah, but throughout the world.”
By implying that all conversion therapies are abusive, the LDS church has adopted the position of LGBT advocacy groups. For example, in 1998, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) formally issued a statement opposing psychiatric treatment “based upon the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder or based upon the a priori assumption that a patient should change his/her sexual homosexual orientation” and describes attempts to change a person’s sexual orientation by practitioners as unethical.
Why It Matters: Is sexual orientation fixed or fluid? For LGBT activists, the answer depends on what position most benefits their cause. When it comes to conversion therapy to change sexual orientation, the LGBT lobby claims that homosexuality is immutable and cannot be changed. Yet in other contexts they claim that sexual orientation is fluid, especially in adolescence.
“Far from being a fixed preference,” notes Carly Cassella of Science Alerts, “the findings [of a recent large long-term study] suggest that sexual identity and attraction undergo extensive and often subtle changes throughout a person’s life, continuing long past adolescence and into adulthood, with women showing slightly more fluidity than men.”
If sexual orientation is fluid, then it seems reasonable that some minors would seek therapy to change unwanted sexual feelings. And indeed, until the LGBT lobby intervened, the psychiatric community largely agreed.
In 1973, the APA famously removed homosexuality as a mental disorder from its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. It was initially replaced in 1980 by the classification of “Ego Dystonic Homosexuality,” characterized by having a sexual orientation or an attraction at odds with one’s idealized self-image, causing anxiety and a desire to change one’s orientation or become more comfortable with one’s sexual orientation. In the 1987 revision of the DSM, this classification was removed for political reasons. “In so doing, the APA implicitly accepted a normal variant view of homosexuality in a way that had not been possible fourteen years earlier,” says Jack Drescher, in a 2015 journal article for Behavioral Sciences.
As Drescher points out, critics contended that if ego dystonic homosexuality was allowed as a classification, all kinds of identity disturbances could be considered psychiatric disorders: “’Should people of color unhappy about their race be considered mentally ill?’ critics asked. What about short people unhappy about their height?”
Ironically, many of those same critics who opposed changing one’s feeling to match their preferred sexual orientation now support changing one’s body to match a person’s preferred gender identity.
Admittedly, some forms of reparative therapy conducted on minors were harmful and abusive. But few forms were as harmful and abusive as the “treatments” for gender dysphoria, such as destroying sexual function and fertility through hormones, or surgically removing genitals or breasts.
Studies have also shown that between 65 percent to 94 percent of children who initially identify as transgender identify with their birth gender by the time they are adults. Yet LGBT activists say we should ignore such findings and promote irreversible “conversion therapies.” As journalist Madeline Kearns points out,
A study published in 2017 in the Journal of Sexual Medicine entitled “Age Is Just a Number” endeavored to investigate “WPATH-affiliated surgeons’ views, experiences, and attitudes toward performing vaginoplasty,” i.e., castration, inversion of the penis, and dilation of a cavity to form a pseudo-vaginal canal, “on transgender minors in the United States.” (WPATH is the World Professional Association for Transgender Health.) Of 20 surgeons who were interviewed, eleven reported having done the procedure “1 to 20” times on children under age 18. The youngest patient was 15.
One surgeon gave an indication as to why this might be a bad idea. He or she described the new clinical landscape as a “new Wild West” where “a bunch of solo practitioners, basically cowboys or cowgirls who kind of build their little house, advertise and suck people in.” In the U.K., the Times of London has covered a whistleblower scandal at Britain’s main clinic for gender-confused youth, from which multiple clinicians have resigned, citing dangerous, experimental, and inadequate care.
Whether conversion therapy for minors to change sexual orientation is helpful or harmful is debatable. It’s also unclear whether that should be the primary option for Christians struggling with same-sex attraction. As TGC Council member Russell Moore has said, instead of depending on psychologists for a cure for same-sex attraction, those with homosexual inclinations should look to Jesus and the gospel for the strength to withstand their particular temptation to sin. “The Bible doesn’t promise us freedom from temptation,” Moore said. “The Bible promises us the power of the spirit to walk through temptation.”
Christians who support conversion therapy for sexual orientation should nevertheless be willing to oppose forms that have proven the be dangerous and destructive. Similarly, LGBT supporters who oppose conversion therapies for sexual orientation should be logically consistent and oppose conversion therapies for children with gender dysphoria. The hypocrisy supporting such dangerous “treatments” is morally repugnant, and the harm they are doing to children cannot be undone.