Although public attention to the gay rights movement has largely centered around the issue of gay marriage and the place of gay men and women in the military, Senate Bill 1172 puts California at the forefront of yet another frontier of the gay rights movement.
SB 1172, which bans gay conversion therapy for minors, was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown on Sept. 29. The law’s intent is to bar mental health professionals from performing treatment on minors to reshape their sexual orientation ““ procedures that have been deemed ineffective and potentially harmful by a variety of professional medical and psychological organizations.
More than two months later, federal judges are now engaged in a back-and-forth disagreement on whether or not the law is constitutional.
U.S. District Judge William B. Shubb claimed that there is not enough viable proof to determine the treatment to be harmful and that SB 1172 impedes on therapists’ freedom of speech, violating the First Amendment. On the same bench, U.S. District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller upheld the law in a separate case, holding that the state has reasonable ground to regulate medical practices and that the law would not hinder therapists’ freedom of speech.
We can leave it to the courts to decide whether SB 1172 is an issue of free speech, but the heart of the matter remains the protection of minors and state oversight of medical practices.
Major health professionals and psychological associations have not considered homosexuality a deficiency or a disability for more than 40 years, according to the law’s text. Homosexuality was also removed from the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” in 1973.
Reparative therapies therefore do not treat any existing “mental illness” or disability. Rather, they use the guise of therapy to push an outdated and archaic view of homosexuality onto youths, many of whom are still developing or coming to understand themselves.
The American Psychological Association has a clear ethics code by which all therapists must abide. Should therapists break with this code, their licenses are temporarily taken away or revoked altogether. One such principle is to treat all patients with a sense of dignity and respect, said Dr. Saeromi Kim, a Counseling and Psychological Services counselor in residence at UCLA’s LGBT Campus Resource Center.
When therapists engage in conversion therapy, they are actively implying that homosexuality and behaviors that do not fit into dominant gender stereotypes require treatment.
This denies and demeans the legitimacy of that patient’s identity and thus violates the Association’s ethical codes.
SB 1172 not only stimulates a modern approach to mental health, but is another stepping stone in one of our generation’s most prominent civil rights movements.
Today’s college students are part of a generation with the power to alter social stigmas surrounding gender and sexuality. Our generation has not grown up with the same societal perceptions of homosexuality as those born even a decade before us: LGBTQ centers are a staple on large public campuses such as ours, members of the military were able for the first time this year to walk in uniform during gay pride parades and the case for gay marriage will soon be heard in the Supreme Court.
Religious arguments, which have been pillars in the opposition to other gay rights platforms, could play a major role in slowing the implementation of SB 1172.
One potential constitutional argument against the ban involves the rights of religious individuals to act on their beliefs. Opponents of the law might posit that religious individuals who claim homosexuality conflicts with their belief system should still have the option of conversion therapy available to them.
SB 1172 does not bar these individuals from that treatment. Rather, it specifies that minors under the age of 18, who are still under their parents’ guardianship, should not be coerced into a treatment that may only serve to belittle or confuse them.
Furthermore, it is clear that if mental health is the primary concern, there exists a significant body of work that indicates these treatments are visibly detrimental to a child’s well-being.
The American Academy of Pediatrics released an article in 1983, which was revised in 1993 and 2004, stating that attempts to change a child’s sexual orientation are ineffective and can lead to feelings of anxiety and guilt.
Psychologists should strive to heal and support their patients, not force their own views upon those that don’t fit within certain perceived “correct” identities. By banning gay conversion therapy, the state can begin to ensure that psychological treatment is effective and professional.
We know that homosexuality is neither a deficiency nor a perversion. We should therefore strive to keep California at the forefront of progress and support open-minded, accepting and modern policies.