I was recently watching the movie "Boy Erased" with my mom. She asked me how recently this story had taken place and was shocked when I said the boy in the movie underwent conversion therapy in 2004. She came up with question after question: how common is it today? How many people does it affect? What laws are in place? I did some quick googling and she was surprised to learn that conversion therapy is only illegal for minors in 15 states and Washington D.C. I also told her that it is predicted that 20,000 youth between the ages of 13 and 17 will experience conversion therapy programs before they turn 18.
The stories of LGBTQ+ youth committing suicide due to conversion therapy are endless, while countless others report physical and sexual assault while undergoing the "treatment". These programs advertise that homosexual identity can be cured and that LGBTQ+ individuals have the capabilities to change their thoughts and feelings. Most conversion therapy is religiously supported and motivated, with churches and religious organizations being the creators of many such programs.
Those that have come out of conversion therapy report stories of emotional abuse through therapy sessions with other participants. Those within the programs are reportedly taught that if they are unable to become heterosexual it is their own personal failure. Participants are physically harmed while watching homoerotic film or images. Being given elastic bands to punish themselves when they have homosexual thoughts and practices to associate shame with homosexuality are also common. Use of electric shock therapy has even been reported as part of the "treatment" involved in conversion therapy. Conversion therapy programs additionally focus on gender identity and gender-specific traits. Organizations teach proper behavior for each gender, requiring "patients" to exhibit behavior that is stereotypically masculine or feminine.
Scientifically, it has been proven that being gay cannot be "cured" and that these programs do not work. There is no scientific evidence that conversion therapy can actually change LGBTQ+ behavior or feelings. The practice of these programs to refer to LGBTQ+ individuals as having a disease or mental disorder is also scientifically ungrounded. Several medical institutions including The American Psychological Association, The American Medical Association, The American Academy of Pediatrics, and The National Association of School Psychologists have spoken out against conversion therapy. These organizations say that the practice is medically inaccurate and has the potential to hurt patients more than helping them as a result of the mental and emotional impacts of conversion therapy.
It is shocking that conversion therapy is still allowed to be practiced at all and that 35 states still allow minors to undergo such treatment. The Vice President of the United States and the Republican Party have even come out with statements that seemingly support the practice. It seems ridiculous that something that has no evidence of being effective is still being practiced and that little to no attempt is being made to save kids from the falsehoods they are being told about how they can "fix" themselves. We need to take a serious look at how we handle this issue and remember that kids are supposed to be taught to embrace who they are, not that a fake medical treatment is the secret to being the right kind of human being.