Garrard Conley

Oklahoma's Conversion Therapy Bill: A Call to Action

Filed By Garrard Conley | February 01, 2015 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Fundie Watch, Politics
Tags: child abuse, conservative backlash, conversion therapy, ex-gay, ex-gay myth, Leelah Alcorn, LGBT teens, Oklahoma, reparative therapy, Sally Kern

oklahoma-map.jpgThe "Freedom to Obtain Conversion Therapy Act," a bill introduced by Oklahoma GOP State Rep. Sally Kern, is the first bill ever to "protect" the dangerous practice of conversion therapy on minors without their consent and "without any interference from the state."

In its own words (the full text of which you can find here):

"A mental health provider may engage in sexual orientation change efforts with a child under eighteen (18) years of age."

The bill provides some convenient definitions for those who have not yet been introduced to conversion therapy's jargon. "Sexual orientation change efforts" can include anything from "unwanted sexual attraction" to unwanted "gender expressions," leaving things open for interpretation, defined by the needs of the mental health provider.

The bill defines "mental health provider" as any "psychologist, psychiatrist, social worker, professional counselor or marital and family therapist, pastor and youth minister, who is licensed by his or her respective licensing authority."

In order to understand just how damaging this could be for LGBTQ Oklahoma teens, consider the range of treatment these mental health providers might be free to employ. In the past, "ex-gay" therapists have already experimented with "touch therapy," where patients hug or cuddle with the therapist in order to receive the kind of fatherly touch that was supposedly missing from their childhoods.

pray-away-the-gay-sara-whitman.jpgIn 2004, when I was at Love in Action -- the largest "ex-gay" facility in the country -- I met many teens who had attempted suicide because they'd been told, again and again, that what they felt was unnatural and perverted in God's eyes. One of the most horrifying stories came from Peterson Toscano, who claimed that a man was forced to stage his own funeral in order to envision the death that would await him if he left therapy without being "cured."

Though the bill seems unlikely to pass, it signifies a conservative backlash against LGBTQ progress. Recently, California, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C. have all passed laws banning the use of conversion therapy on minors, and every major mainstream medical group in the country has spoken out against it. What we must make sure of, in the midst of this progress, is that bigoted bills like Kern's are not encouraged in any way.

Let's help spread the message that so-called "reparative therapy" is not only harmful to youth, but also life-threatening. Let's help enact more laws to ban harmful ex-gay practices.

As we learned from Ohio transgender teen Leelah Alcorn, who was forced into reparative therapy and subsequently committed suicide, it is up to us to "fix society."

"Pray Away the Gay" image credit: Sara Whitman.

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