Why I oppose the ‘Don’t Say Ex-Gay’ bill
April 26th, 2012
As has been discussed on other threads, the California State Legislature is proposing a bill that will prohibit licensed mental health professionals from offering therapy to minors with the goal of diminishing same-sex attraction or encouraging opposite-sex attraction. Many in our community, including other Box Turtle Bulletin authors, see this as at least a partially positive action. I see it a horrific.
There are many reasons, some philosophical – some pragmatic, why I oppose this bill. Here are a few:
It isn’t needed
No mental health organization has called for this action. But that is not because of ignorance about the issue or a lack of willingness to address it.
In August 2009 the American Psychological Association Task Force Task Force on Appropriate Therapeutic Response to Sexual Orientation issued it’s report. The conclusion was
The American Psychological Association Task Force on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation conducted a systematic review of the peer-reviewed journal literature on sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) and concluded that efforts to change sexual orientation are unlikely to be successful and involve some risk of harm, contrary to the claims of SOCE practitioners and advocates. Even though the research and clinical literature demonstrate that same-sex sexual and romantic attractions, feelings, and behaviors are normal and positive variations of human sexuality, regardless of sexual orientation identity, the task force concluded that the population that undergoes SOCE tends to have strongly conservative religious views that lead them to seek to change their sexual orientation. Thus, the appropriate application of affirmative therapeutic interventions for those who seek SOCE involves therapist acceptance, support, and understanding of clients and the facilitation of clients’ active coping, social support, and identity exploration and development, without imposing a specific sexual orientation identity outcome.
However, the findings seem to stop short of banning change therapy. And this is an important distinction.
The Task Force also found
The conflict between psychology and traditional faiths may have its roots in different philosophical viewpoints. Some religions give priority to telic congruence (i.e., living consistently within one’s valuative goals) (W. Hathaway, personal communication, June 30, 2008; cf. Richards & Bergin, 2005). Some authors propose that for adherents of these religions, religious perspectives and values should be integrated into the goals of psychotherapy (Richards & Bergin, 2005; Throckmorton & Yarhouse, 2006). Affirmative and multicultural models of LGB psychology give priority to organismic congruence (i.e., living with a sense of wholeness in one’s experiential self (W. Hathaway, personal communication, June 30, 2008; cf. Gonsiorek, 2004; Malyon, 1982). This perspective gives priority to the unfolding of developmental processes, including self-awareness and personal identity.
This difference in worldviews can impact psychotherapy. For instance, individuals who have strong religious beliefs can experience tensions and conflicts between their ideal self and beliefs and their sexual and affectional needs and desires (Beckstead & Morrow, 2004; D. F. Morrow, 2003). The different worldviews would approach psychotherapy for these individuals from dissimilar perspectives: The telic strategy would prioritize values (Rosik, 2003; Yarhouse & Burkett, 2002), whereas the organismic approach would give priority to the development of self-awareness and identity (Beckstead & Israel, 2007; Gonsiorek, 2004; Haldeman, 2004). It is important to note that the organismic worldview can be congruent with and respectful of religion (Beckstead & Israel, 2007; Glassgold, 2008; Gonsiorek, 2004; Haldeman, 2004; Mark, 2008), and the telic worldview can be aware of sexual stigma and respectful of sexual orientation (Throckmorton & Yarhouse, 2006; Tan, 2008; Yarhouse, 2008). Understanding this philosophical difference may improve the dialogue between these two perspectives represented in the literature, as it refocuses the debate not on one group’s perceived rejection of homosexuals or the other group’s perceived minimization of religious viewpoints but on philosophical differences that extend beyond this particular subject matter. However, some of the differences between these philosophical assumptions may be difficult to bridge.
In a nutshell, that says that different people with different worldviews benefit from different types of therapy. Not exactly a shocking revelation.
The APA is taking a measured and cautious approach designed to address the needs of patients. They are looking to efficacy, but not only to results. They are also considering the side effects – positive and negative – of such therapy. And they are seeking ways to improve communication between differing people so as to maximize mental health consequences.
Which, of course, is of no concern to the California State Legislature. Their agenda is political, not therapeutic.
This removes all therapy for some individuals
Our community tends to focus on the potential harm of change therapy. And there is potential harm. But we are reluctant to admit that some people benefit from this therapy.
No, they don’t change their orientation. But we have heard many people share with us that through their therapy with a change therapist they were able to deal with other issues: finding their own worth, identifying their values, determining what matters, and overcoming messages of condemnation and rejection.
Change therapy has much to be criticized about. But change therapists do attempt to dispel some of the erroneous messages that their patients have heard, including “God hates you” and “you are an abomination” and “you choose to be this way”.
Some may argue that the bad outweighs the good. And in some instances that may be true. But the truth that many forget is that this is the only option for some gay Christian youth. They are not going to have access to an affirmative counselor. They are not going to want access to an affirmative counselor.
And any suggestion on our part that they seek an affirmative therapist is flippant, at best.
This is an extension of a micromanagement ‘government knows best’ approach
Were this coming from a psychiatrist turned state senator, I might see it as a matter of advancing and protecting the interests of the profession. But Senator Ted Lieu is not known for his desire to administer solutions to problems. Rather, it might be best to describe Senator Lieu as a man who is quite convinced that he knows what is best for you and is more than ready to force you to do it. He shares more than a little instinct with Dr. James Dobson – just from the opposite side.
Lieu lists his 2011 Legislative Accomplishments. They consist of a bill to establish committees to decide what job Californians should have, a bill “requiring all pets to be microchipped with the owner’s contact information”, a bill “prohibiting children under the age of 18 from using ultra violet tanning beds”, a bill designed to require out of state employers whose work force is predominantly out of state to provide domestic partner benefits to any employee within the state, a bill which eliminates the right of employers to collect costs or expenses resulting from an illegal strike, a bill which sought to “impose time and place restriction for funeral protests”, and a bill which “prohibits the practice of selling puppies and kittens in parking lots and sidewalks”.
Whether one thinks that these are all good things or all bad things, it’s pretty clear that Lieu has a consistent approach to individual rights: restrict them.
The motivations behind it are less than honorable
In the State of California, there are no more bills that can be passed to put gay people on an equal standing. They have passed them all. The only remaining hurdle is marriage and that is out of the hands of the legislature.
But certain elected officials, and certain gay advocacy groups desperately need for there to be conflict. They regularly send “call your assemblyman, send us money” emails so as to make sure that some unnecessary bill isn’t Defeated by the Right Wing which Wants to Take Away Your Freedom, before it passes overwhelmingly along a party line vote.
This is political cynicism. It is barely even masquerading as anything else. And we are fools if we let ourselves be so easily manipulated.
I was ambivalent about Harvey Milk Day. There’s no need for such a day. There’s no purpose for such a day. But it didn’t harm anyone and wasn’t an expensive waste so I really didn’t much care.
I was troubled about legislation which would require teaching about the contributions to early California history by gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people (which would involve some pretty creative revisionist storytelling) while banning anything whatsoever that might “negatively reflect” on gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. This was a purely undisguised propaganda bill related in spirit to St. Petersburg’s bill to ban “homosexual propaganda”. Both are attempts to push a point of view while silencing any differing views. You may recall that I didn’t rejoice over that piece of Big Brother heavy-handedness.
This is the next logical step.
Having banned divergent views in the classroom, the legislature now is entering the private sphere to dictate what can and cannot be said.
Before we get all giddy that our views are winning and their views are banned, let’s ask ourselves what it is that we believe.
I hear so very much about “the h8ters”. But is it hate that we oppose, or just the target? If it is hate, then why do those who complain about them the most do so in terms or bald unvarnished hatred?
I hear that it is awful that Tennessee legislators want to ban support for gay kids in school. Is it the refusal to support that is bad, or is it only the target? Because if it is the refusal to support, why are we not upset about conservative kids who will not no longer be allowed to seek therapy that they find supportive?
Before we go down the “I’m right, so what I do is right” road, let’s recall that history and politics are a pendulum. It is swinging in our direction at the moment. But let our behavior and our responses be such that when it reverses, the structures and principles we set in place will ensure that we are not harmed.
Because the laws we pass today to punish, inhibit, and deny rights to those whom we feel are wrong or bad or inferior will give birth to the laws that will be used against us in the future.