Post by Tyler Strosnider, Honors Civic Engagement
History of LGBTQ+ orientations labeled as mental illnesses:
- According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-II), a Psychological reference book that provides all psychologists common definitions of mental disorders, homosexuality was seen as a form of paraphilia, which has a complicated history of definition, but was later changed to a disturbance of the person.
- There is, to date, no scientific evidence that confirms homosexuality to be a disorder.
- In the mid-1900s, many believed that homosexuals sexually abused children, and thus was deemed paraphilia.
- Joseph Nicolosi, an American psychologist, began the trend of conversion therapy.
Heteronormativity, the idea of heterosexuality being the “normal” sexual orientation, is used to support homophobic claims, and is used as a reason to support conversion therapy.
In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) asked all members attending its convention to vote on whether they believed homosexuality to be a mental disorder. 5,854 psychiatrists voted to remove homosexuality from the DSM, and 3,810 to retain it.
What is conversion therapy?
- According to the American Psychiatric Association, Conversion therapy is the psychological practices intended to change one’s sexual orientation. It is tailored for homosexual or bisexual people attempting to become heterosexual, and is attempted by people of religious faith. As of 2018, the APA opposes conversion therapy on the basis of assuming homosexuality is a treatable mental disorder.
- The APA released a statement on the published reviews of conversion therapy and came to the conclusion that there is no substantial evidence that conversion therapy works.
- The APA concluded that conversion therapy increases the risk of suicide and depression of patients who underwent this process. Leelah Alcorn, a transgender 17 year old, became well known for killing herself from this process.
- Protection from Conversion Therapy has been gaining bipartisan support in the 21st century in comparison to the bipartisan promotion of conversion therapy in the 1900s.
- According to a yougov public opinion poll, only 8% of Americans believe that conversion therapy works.
- Overall, conversion therapy has been banned in only 16 states and Washington D.C meaning there are 34 states that have no lawful regulations on conversion therapy.
What are some techniques for conversion therapy?
- The techniques for conversion therapy include a variety of behavioral, cognitive, and psychoanalytic techniques. Conversion Therapists often use nausea, vomiting, or paralysis while showing images deemed homosexual. Therapists also use techniques to force the patient to use more masculine or feminine poses and attitudes.
What is currently being done to prevent conversion therapy in Virginia?
- Two bills were proposed in the Virginia General Assembly during the 2019 session:
- SB 1773 : SB 1773 was introduced by Siobhan Dunnavant (R- Henrico County) and Directs the Board of Counseling, the Board of Medicine, the Board of Nursing, the Board of Psychology, and the Board of Social Work in Virginia to ban licensed counselors the opportunity to perform conversion therapy. Although this bill was was killed in the Education and Health Committee, but has brought attention to the stated committees in the bill, and are currently looking to regulate on their own basis.
- SB 1778: SB 1778 was introduced by Stephen Newman (R-Lynchburg) and Directs the Board of Counseling, the Board of Medicine, the Board of Nursing, the Board of Psychology, and the Board of Social Work in Virginia to ban “electroshock therapy, aversion therapy, or other physical treatments in the practice of conversion therapy with any person under 18 years of age.” This bill was voted in favor 20-19 in the Virginia Senate, but was then killed with a reconsideration vote and left in the Education and Health Committee.
Organizations’ Policy and Position Statements
- American Medical Association, Health Care Needs of Gay Men and Lesbians in the United States, 275 J. Am. Med. Ass’n 1354 (1996)
- “Aversion therapy (a behavioral or medical intervention which pairs unwanted behavior, in this case, homosexual behavior, with unpleasant sensations or aversive consequences) is no longer recommended for gay men and lesbians. Through psychotherapy, gay men and lesbians can become comfortable with their sexual orientation and understand the societal response to it.”
- American College of Physicians, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Health Disparities: Executive Summary of a Policy Position Paper From the American College of Physicians, Ann Intern Med. Published Online (2015),
- “8. The College opposes the use of “conversion,” “reorientation,” or “reparative” therapy for the treatment of LGBT persons.
- Available research does not support the use of reparative therapy as an effective method in the treatment of LGBT persons. Evidence shows that the practice may actually cause emotional or physical harm to LGBT individuals, particularly adolescents or young persons. Research done at San Francisco State University on the effect of familial attitudes and acceptance found that LGBT youth who were rejected by their families because of their identity were more likely than their LGBT peers who were not rejected or only mildly rejected by their families to attempt suicide, report high levels of depression, use illegal drugs, or be at risk for HIV and sexually transmitted illnesses. The American Psychological Association literature review found that reparative therapy is associated with the loss of sexual feeling, depression, anxiety, and suicidality.”
- American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, The AACAP Policy on “Conversion Therapies” (2018)
- “The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry finds no evidence to support the application of any “therapeutic intervention” operating under the premise that a specific sexual orientation, gender identity, and/or gender expression is pathological. Furthermore, based on the scientific evidence, the AACAP asserts that such “conversion therapies” (or other interventions imposed with the intent of promoting a particular sexual orientation and/or gender as a preferred outcome) lack scientific credibility and clinical utility. Additionally, there is evidence that such interventions are harmful. As a result, “conversion therapies” should not be part of any behavioral health treatment of children and adolescents.”
The Need for Civic Engagement
- Most conversion therapy occurs when minors have a harder time expressing their ideas to lawmakers. There is a need for programs and resources to be more tailored to educating minors and informing them of their rights.
- Some good examples include:
What can you do to address conversion therapy?
- Let people you know who are LGBTQ+ that you support them.
- Question authorities who believe conversion therapy works.
- Volunteer with LGBTQ+ networks to spread the dangers of conversion therapy.
- Work with local governments/advocacy groups to abolish conversion therapy in your area.
- Do your research and share the facts of conversion therapy on social media.
- Submit editorials about the facts of conversion therapy in newspapers/blogs.
- Work with Student Organizations such as Madison Equality, SOGIE, Student Government, etc. to set the stage for LGBTQ civic engagement.
- What did you learn today that you had not previously been aware of?
- How can we be more mindful of how we impact individuals who are LGBTQ+?
- What can you do to be more supportive of individuals who are LGBTQ+?
- What are your thoughts on the bills proposed in the Virginia Senate?
- What can be done to create a more inclusive environment at JMU for LGBTQ+ individuals?