An estimated 10,000 LGBT+ Americans have been protected from conversion therapy after statewide bans made the discredited practise illegal for minors in 18 states, a study has found.
The Williams Institute at UCLA reported that in the seven years since California became the first state to ban conversion therapy for minors, thousands of children aged 13-17 have been spared the harmful therapy — although thousands more are at risk while it remains legal in the majority of states.
The study estimates that around 16,000 LGBT youths aged 13-17 will receive conversion therapy from a licensed health care professional before they reach the age of 18, and approximately 57,000 more will undergo the treatment from a religious or spiritual advisor.
Conversion therapy is “dangerous and discredited”
Conversion therapy is “a range of dangerous and discredited practices that falsely claim to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity or expression,” according to the Human Rights Campaign. It has been practised in the US for over a century, often using aversion techniques such as electric shocks, heat or induced nausea.
To date, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and Puerto Rico all have laws or regulations protecting LGBT+ youths from this harmful practice.
But in the remainder of states where it is legal, parents can force their children into the therapy against their will. The harmful practise is often compared to torture and has ben linked to higher risks of depression, suicide, and drug addiction.
Public opinion is changing
When conducting conducted public opinion polls at a national level, the UCLA study found that a majority of people in the US support ending the use of conversion therapy on under-18s.
The study added that a 2019 national poll conducted by Ipsos/Reuters found 56% of US adults support making it illegal for mental health practitioners to perform the therapy on under-18s, compared to a minority (18%) who think that it should be legal.
In 2018 the European Parliament adopted a non-binding text that called on EU members to ban the practice, with Malta and Spain leading the way in criminalising the practise.
On June 10 Germany announced plans to ban the practise within the year, with Health Minister Jens Spahn saying: “Homosexuality is not an illness, which is why it does not need to be treated.”
“The scientific research since the late 1940s has been remarkably consistent that sexual orientation and gender identity are remarkably resistant to efforts to change,” Catherine Lugg, a professor at the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers University, told NBC News.
“Since the 1970s, no credible medical organisation has claimed that one can change — or, by implication, should change — their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.”