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A same-sex couple hold hands during a sit-in protest when same-sex couples were denied marriage licenses in San Francisco, California.
Can a person’s sexual orientation be changed through therapy? Some mental health professionals think so, and there is a growing practice among therapists who claim they can “cure” someone who does not want to be gay or lesbian.
But such so-called “conversion therapy” is highly controversial; the medical community is in agreement that homosexuality is not a disease, mental disorder or any other medical condition, and many consider conversion therapy to be potentially dangerous. Now a bill proposed by California Senator Ted Lieu would regulate sexual orientation therapy.
"First of all, it is not a medical condition or illness or defect to be homosexual. It is nothing that requires a cure," Lieu said. "Second, it is dangerous. People and therapists who practice this have, in cases, sometimes caused young people later to commit suicide."
In a press release, Lieu says that “some therapists are taking advantage of vulnerable people by pushing dangerous sexual orientation-change efforts.” His bill would ban children under 18 from undergoing such treatment, and would require adults contemplating sexual orientation therapy to acknowledge that they’ve been made aware of potential dangers. Opponents of the bill support a patient’s right “to explore their unwanted attractions and make changes to their lives.”
L.A.-based reparative therapist David Pickup said that homosexuality is environmentally caused, and therapy helps alleviate symptoms that are caused by childhood trauma.
"This is not just 'Oh, my dad yelled at me.' We're talking about a severe emotional trauma during the developmental times where one first forms their sexual and gender identity," he explained.
He added that his many of his clients want help changing their sexuality. "All the men in my office, for instance, claim that for them, homosexuality is not inborn. And they deserve a voice," Pickup continued.
According to Lieu, his bill will only affect those in the medical community. "This doesn't apply to clergy or other religious institutions— there are other places [people] can go if they really believe that they want this issue to be looked at. Because this is not medicine, you can't engage in this with children," he explained.
Lieu said that homosexuality is not a medical illness, and Pickup agrees. "We don't believe it's a disease or mental illness either," he said. "We don't demonize people, we don't coerce people, we don't coerce children. We honor who they believe they really are."
Pickup said he's afraid Lieu's bill is too blunt of an instrument to deal with the few reparative therapists who stray from professionalism.
Which side here is right? Should people be able to make their own decisions, regardless of the consequences? Is this practice even effective? Have you undergone sex conversion therapy or known anyone who has?
Ted Lieu, California State Senator (D-28), author of SB 1172
David Pickup, Reparative Therapist with a practice here in the L.A area, President of International Institute for Reorientation Therapies, also a Member of National Association for the Research and Therapy for Homosexuality (NARTH)