On Tuesday, July 16 the Massachusetts Legislature’s Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities heard testimony on a bill filed by Representative Carl Sciortino (D–Medford) that would ban any Massachusetts state-licensed medical, mental health, or human service professional from practicing so-called “conversion or reparative therapy” with minors that seeks or purports to heal or correct a child from identifying and expressing themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Tactics used in this controversial practice have included methods that most medical and mental health professional groups have stated have no scientific basis, harms the physical and emotional well-being of children, and are, in fact, a veiled form of child abuse.
Members of the Joint Committee heard testimony from licensed medical officials and clinicians, social workers, and survivors of “conversion therapy” about the inherent dangers of the methods used to change a child’s same-sex or bisexual sexual orientation or transgender gender identity, as well as the life-long damage as a result to exposure. The bill mirrors legislation passed in California last year and a bill passed by the New Jersey legislature this summer that is now awaiting Governor Chris Christie’s signature.
“Simply put, our children should not be exposed to this pseudo-science,” said Representative Sciortino. “And parents should not be misled to believe that these techniques will help their children. Groups such as the American Psychiatric Association, the National Association of Social Workers, the American Medical Association, and the American Counseling Association have all condemned it.”
“Conversion therapy,” when applied to children who are exploring and coping with their sexual orientation or gender identity, includes not only traditional talk therapy (where a clinician leads a child to believe that being gay or transgender is wrong) but has in certain instances employed electroshock therapy, nausea-inducing drugs, and other bizarre methods that have had no scientific evidence of “curing” a child’s same-sex attraction or identification with the gender they were not born as. Conversion efforts instead traumatize and hurt children, leading to adverse mental problems and, in some cases, suicide. According to a survey done by the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, thirty-percent to forty-percent of LGBT youth have attempted suicide. According to a study in the journal Pediatrics, LGBT teens and young adults have one of the highest rates of suicide attempts.
Ben Klein, Senior Attorney with Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders of Boston was a testifier at the hearing. “So-called ‘conversion therapy’ is a disgraceful chapter in our society’s mistreatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people,” said Klein during his testimony. “Passage of this bill will send an important message that sexual orientation and gender identity do not need changing.”
“This kind of ‘therapy’ is not healing, it is actively harmful. It teaches young lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender kids that there is something wrong with them and can lead to a lifetime of challenges,” said Kara Suffredini, Executive Director of MassEquality, which submitted testimony to the Joint Committee urging passage of Representative Sciortino’s bill. “Reparative therapy has no place anywhere, but especially in Massachusetts, where we have led the country in supporting LGBTQ young people dating back to the creation, in 1993, of the state’s LGBT Youth Commission. We know from this experience that caring for our young people strengthens our Commonwealth.”
Wayne Besen of Truth Wins Out, a nonprofit group that counters antigay propaganda, exposes the “ex-gay” myth, and educates the public about gay life, also testified. “This bill will save lives and protect LGBT youth from harm,” said Besen. “We are grateful for Representative Sciortino’s leadership and critical work to stop child abuse masquerading as legitimate therapy.”
“The National Association of Social Workers MA Chapter strongly believes that Massachusetts must join California and New Jersey where conversion therapy bans have passed,” said Mark Blogier, a licensed clinician and member of the Massachusetts Chapter of NASW. “What these teens need is understanding and acceptance. And real therapy – preferably with a social worker – which means starting where the teens are at and helping them accept themselves and eliminate shame and self-loathing.”
“Conversion therapy wrongly teaches LGBT kids that they are disgusting, ungodly and less worthy than others,” stated Arline Isaacson, Co-Chair of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus and also a testifier at yesterday’s hearing. “It misleads kids into thinking they can make themselves be heterosexual, if they only try hard enough. It’s a cruel, fraudulent and discredited practice. You can’t change who you are or who you love.”
“In Massachusetts, already more than 40% of youth who need mental health care do not receive it. We have a responsibility to make sure that when vulnerable lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning youth reach out for counseling services, the care they receive doesn’t increase their risk of harm,” said Alison Gill, who provided testimony on behalf of The Trevor Project. “The Trevor Project is proud to work alongside leaders like Representative Sciortino to ensure that children in Massachusetts are not exposed to dangerous and discredited counseling practices.”
“As an independent state agency with a legislative mandate to ensure the health and well -being of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth in Massachusetts, we are encouraged that the Legislature is considering Rep. Sciortino’s bill to end conversion therapy in the Commonwealth,” said Julian Cyr, Chair of the Massachusetts Commission on LGBT Youth. “It is alarming that some young people still endure such quackery right at that formative moment in the lifespan when they are figuring out who they are. We are eager to protect youth in Massachusetts from this misapplication of psychotherapy.”
The hearing also included testimonies from Dr. Norman Spack and Francie Mandel, who specialize in working with transgender youth at Children’s Hospital Boston. Both Spack and Mandel gave their support for Sciortino’s bill and reprimanded practices associated with “conversion therapy” as harmful. There was also a reading of a survivor’s testimony by Karen Darcy of Children’s Hospital Boston, describing the harrowing ordeals one young person was subjected to in order to rid him of his homosexuality. It did not work. Instead, he has been working to overcome the resulting trauma.
- Information from Rep. Sciortino’s office