at the 1972 American Psychiatric Association Convention. Photo by Gittings' partner Kay Tobin Lahusen, NYPL Digital Library)
This could be an LGBT movement game changer. But even more importantly, the bill California Gov. Jerry Brown signed late Saturday night, SB 1172, could mark the beginning of the end of the inculcated religious and cultural shame over homosexuality that has caused so many kids to kill themselves and so many distraught parents to try to “change” their children’s sexual orientation or gender expression. With a stroke of his pen, Brown officially concurred with what late gay movement pioneers Harry Hay, Frank Kameny, Barbara Gittings ings and Gay Liberationists Morris Kight and still-practicing therapist Don Kilhefner have been saying for more than 50 years: it is OK to be gay. Using discredited methods to try to force kids – including trans kids - to think otherwise, the new law says, is psychological child abuse.
State Sen. Ted Lieu’s bill SB 1172 prohibits licensed therapists from practicing the junk science known as “reparative” or “ex-gay” manipulation to try to change a minor’s sexual orientation. "This bill bans non-scientific 'therapies' that have driven young people to depression and suicide. These practices have no basis in science or medicine and they will now be relegated to the dustbin of quackery," Brown said in a statement to the San Francisco Chronicle.
Lieu hailed the signing as a “landmark victory” for civil rights. Lieu said in a statement:
“No one should stand idly by while children are being psychological abused, and anyone who forces a child to try to change their sexual orientation must understand this is unacceptable….If anyone had any doubts such practices were evil, they need only listen to accounts of victims who went through this abusive practice. Some victims, such as Kirk Murphy, committed suicide. This law is partly in remembrance of Kirk.”
Effective Jan. 1, 2013, SB 1172 will prohibit children under 18 from undergoing sexual orientation-“change” efforts and therapists who violated the law will be subject to punishment or discipline by the professional psychological group issuing their license. SB 1172 does NOT prohibit practicing the debunked methods by non-licensed groups such as the Los Angeles-based National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) or by religious-based groups or individuals.
The so-called “ex-gay” or “reparative therapy” – that is, “therapy” to “repair” homosexuality - has a very long, dark legal and culturally acceptable history. In 2010, David Mixner wrote about the Atascadero State Hospital, “a chamber of horrors for homosexuals:”
The tag ‘Homosexual Dachau’ was well-earned for its forced lobotomies, castrations and brutal treatments practiced at that facility. Hundreds of gays and lesbians were forcibly sent by their families to be cured of homosexuality which, as recently as the early 1970s, was considered a sexual and psychological disorder…..
Even up until 1971, simply being a homosexual could result in a life sentence. Twenty states had laws stating that the mere fact you were a homosexual was reason for imprisonment. In California (of all places) and Pennsylvania, we could be put away for life in a mental hospital. In seven states castration was permitted as a way to stop homosexual 'deviants.'
At Atascadero State Hospital, doctors (I use that term loosely) were permitted under an obscure California law to commit those who practiced sodomy into the hospital. Once admitted, normal men and women were rendered mentally disabled through the torture of castration, lobotomies, forced chemical treatments and experimental treatments. The horrors experienced by hundreds are almost too hard to comprehend in America.
The most notorious was a Dr. Walter J. Freeman who perfected the ice pick lobotomy. He jammed an ice pick through a homosexual's eyes into the brain and performed a primitive lobotomy. According to records, he treated over 4,000 patients this way around America and it is estimated that nearly 30% to 40% were homosexuals. He believed deeply this was the only way to cure homosexuality.
Despite the number of professional psychological associations that debunked the “science” of “change” therapy to “cure” homosexuality, no legislator until Lieu has successfully taken a stand on behalf of LGBT people as patients harmed by these bogus and unethical practices.
Lieu’s office pointed out in a press release:
The medical community has labeled such efforts as non-scientific and dangerous because in some cases patients later committed suicide or suffered severe mental and physical anguish. Those facts became part of the public record during lengthy testimony, including emotional accounts from survivors, presented during lengthy policy-committee reviews on SB 1172.
Citing nearly 40 years of research by mental health experts, SB 1172 is based on the following:
· An individual’s sexual orientation, whether homosexual, bisexual or heterosexual, is not a disease, disorder, illness, deficiency or shortcoming.
· Sexual orientation change efforts pose critical health threats to lesbian, gay and bisexual people, including confusion, depression, guilt, hopelessness, shame, suicide, self-hatred, decreased self-esteem and a host of anger, dysfunction and dehumanized feelings.
There is insufficient evidence that any type of psychotherapy can change a person’s sexual orientation. Instead, abusive attempts to change sexual orientation in some cases have caused serious and lasting harm.
Dr. Robert Spitzer, who earlier submitted a flawed study purporting to show reparative therapy may work, renounced his study this year and apologized to the LGBT community.
The reaction was swift to passage of SB 1172.
The National Center for Lesbian Rights and Equality California, which sponsored the bill along with Gaylesta, Courage Campaign, Lambda Legal, and Mental Health America of Northern California and other groups, said in a joint press release:
With Governor Brown’s signature, California becomes the first state in the nation to protect LGBT young people from these dangerous practices, including the use of shame, verbal abuse, and aversion therapy, that place youth at high risk of depression and suicide….
"Governor Brown today reaffirmed what medical and mental health organizations have made clear: Efforts to change minors' sexual orientation are not therapy, they are the relics of prejudice and abuse that have inflicted untold harm on young lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Californians," said Clarissa Filgioun, Equality California board president. "We thank Senator Ted Lieu and Governor Brown for their efforts in making California a leader in banning this deceptive and harmful practice."
Added NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell: “Governor Brown has sent a powerful message of affirmation and support to LGBT youth and their families. This law will ensure that state-licensed therapists can no longer abuse their power to harm LGBT youth and propagate the dangerous and deadly lie that sexual orientation is an illness or disorder that can be ‘cured.’ ”
Ryan Kendall, a survivor of the practice who testified in the Perry v. Brown legal challenge to Proposition 8, described his experience earlier this summer to the Assembly Business, Professions and Consumer Protection Committee: “As a young teen, the anti-gay practice of so-called conversion therapy destroyed my life and tore apart my family. In order to stop the therapy that misled my parents into believing that I could somehow be made straight, I was forced to run away from home, surrender myself to the local department of human services, and legally separate myself from my family. At the age of 16, I had lost everything. My family and my faith had rejected me, and the damaging messages of conversion therapy, coupled with this rejection, drove me to the brink of suicide.”
This victory would not have been possible without the dedication and collaboration of dozens of organizations and individuals, many of whom—such as survivors Kendall and Peter Drake—opened their lives and sacrificed their privacy to share the damage they suffered as a result of these abusive practices. In addition to the SB 1172’s sponsors, the bill was supported by dozens of organizations, including a number of mental health organizations, including: The California Psychological Association, the American Psychoanalytic Association, the California Board of Behavioral Sciences, the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (California Division), the National Association of Social Workers (CA Chapter), the California Latino Psychological Association, and the California Council of Community Mental Health Agencies.
"Governor Brown has shown courage for enacting the first law in the nation to ban 'conversion therapy' for gay people. The Governor's action will protect thousands of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth of California. This law will save lives here and across the nation by ending the torture of young people through the quackery that suggests that gay people can decide somehow not to be gay, which is akin to white people deciding not to be white. Once again, California is a model for the nation."
The Human Rights Campaign, whose new president has made it a priority to care for LGBT youth, issued this statement:
California Gov. Jerry Brown has signed into law SB 1172, a bill that will put an end to dangerous and disproved efforts designed to change a young person’s sexual orientation or gender expression that have proven to inflict great emotional harm. Upon learning of the governor’s signing of the bill, Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin issued the following statement:
"We're grateful to Governor Brown for standing with California's children. LGBT youth will now be protected from a practice that has not only been debunked as junk science, but has been proven to have drastically negative effects on their well-being. We commend Governor Brown for putting children first, and call on all states to take California’s lead on this issue. We will continue our fight against this kind of child abuse, which has been deemed harmful to children by all major mental health, medical, and child welfare organizations."
Authored by California Senator Ted Lieu, SB 1172 was sponsored by Equality California, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Gaylesta, Lambda Legal, Mental Health of North America, and the Courage Campaign. This week nearly 50,000 concerned citizens signed a Human Rights Campaign petition urging the Governor to sign the bill.
Efforts to change sexual orientation or gender expression have been debunked as junk science, and have also been proven harmful to children and adults. All major medical and mental health organizations have denounced the practice including: the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American School Counselor Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, the National Association of Social Workers, the American Psychoanalytic Association, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Pan American Health Organization. Learn more at www.hrc.org/reparativetherapy.
“This is a historic day that protects LGBT youth from child abuse disguised as genuine therapy,” said Truth Wins Out’s Executive Director Wayne Besen. “We thank Gov. Brown for signing legislation that can serve as a model for similar bills across the nation.”
The LA Gay & Lesbian Center also hailed the signing:
In response to California Governor Jerry Brown’s signing of SB 1172, the bill that protects lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth from the dangers of “therapy” intended to change their sexual orientation or gender expression, L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center Chief Executive Officer Lorri L. Jean issued the following statement:
“Finally, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth in California will be protected from the dangerous and discredited quackery known as ‘reparative therapy.’ We applaud Governor Jerry Brown for signing SB 1172 and its author, Senator Ted Lieu, for saving lives through their legislative and moral leadership. It’s my sincere hope, for the benefit of all American youth, that this new law will spark a wave of similar legislation in statehouses throughout the country.
It’s outrageous that anyone, especially under the guise of providing therapy, should be allowed to practice discredited techniques known to inflict severe emotional harm and sometimes suicide. All too often we see the results of these ‘treatments’ on the many homeless LGBT youth we serve at the Center; repairing their harmful effects is challenging, especially for the many who turn to drugs to deal with their torment. Such practices should never have been protected by the law here and they shouldn’t be protected anywhere else.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center has been following the so-called “ex-gay” movement for ages. Christine P. Sun, deputy legal director for the and director of SPLC’s LGBT rights project, said in a statement:
“This is a great day for youth in California who have been subjected to incredibly harmful therapy based on junk science. Conversion therapy has brought nothing but pain and devastation for many who have endured it. Sadly, the conversion therapy movement has pushed its message for decades — despite the dangers of this practice — and has increasingly targeted LGBT youth across the country. Passing this law is an important step for California and the nation to raise awareness about the lies behind conversion therapy and put an end to this junk science.”
But as SPLC, Truth Wins Out, Jim Burroway at Box Turtle Bulletin and others have pointed out for years, “ex-gay therapy” is a lucrative industry who leaders are unlikely to relinquish their income easily. In fact, Box Turtle Bulletin reports that “NARTH and Liberty Counsel have vowed to challenge the law in court.” (Check out Burroway’s excoriation of NARTH founder Paul Cameron.) Additionally, NARTH “therapist” Christopher Rosik sent a letter to the Los Angels Times after the bill's passage saying: "As is plainly evident, should SB 1172 become law, licensed therapists in California who would otherwise be willing to assist minor clients in modifying their unwanted same-sex attractions and behaviors will be seriously jeopardizing their professional livelihoods.”
Nonetheless, as Burroway points out, groups that continue to believe “change” is possible continue to flourish:
The Sacramento News & Review’s Kel Munger went to the inaugural conference of the Restored Hope ex-gay network in Sacramento on September 21-22. The Restored Hope Network is made up mostly of several ex-gay ministries that have broken away from Exodus International over Exodus president Alan Chambers’s statements acknowledging that “99.9%” of ex-gay ministry members “have not experienced a change in their orientation,” disavowing the particular form of sexual orientation change therapy known as Reparative Therapy, and recognizing that gay Christians may enter heaven.
You can read Munger’s report here, and an interview with Truth Wins Out’s Wayne Besen here. More interesting, I think, is her interview with Andrew Comiskey, who is the president of Restored Hope. He is also the director of Desert Stream Ministries, which had been one of largest ministries of the Exodus International. Comiskey, who had also served as Exodus president, was the first to publicly break with Exodus last spring over its change in direction, stating that “Alan’s comments about change unwittingly played into the enemy’s hands.” But in Comiskey’s talk with Munger, the “enemy” talk was dropped in favor of a somewhat lighter, more “reasonable” tone. On Restored Hope versus Exodus International, Comiskey said:
The unique aspect of Exodus is that it was founded on the hope that individuals who were Christian and who were motivated and who had good pastoral support could actually affect significant change in their sexual identity. So the term “change is possible” was a term that Exodus coined and that we all believed in and took heart in—and again, that being an increasingly counter-cultural point of view, we particularly needed each other to be on the same page.
The leader of Exodus, like a lot of us, having been under fire for a number of years, capitulated a bit, and basically has removed the “change” portion of the hope for people seeking Jesus Christ in light of their same-sex attractions. So having removed this dimension of change, the hope of change, was something that for many of us, including myself, runs contrary to our understanding of what Jesus Christ can effect in people’s lives, and it is a major reason and motivating factor for our gathering and seeking the Lord together.”
On SB 1172, Burroway notes that “Comiskey appears to have staked out middle position,” still supporting “change” therapy but declining to oppose the bill:
I’m aware, through my own study and so on, that there are different approaches psychologically to understanding and treating homosexuality. So I’m not inclined to either high-five or discount however this bill is understanding reparative therapy. I think the question of age is a factor; I think the question of motivation is a factor. I think psychotherapy is a soft social science, and so to approach it from the standpoint that everything objectively has to be in this hard-drive understanding of the impact of the “talking cure”—that is, the seeking of an advocate to achieve certain goals based on one’s conscience and ethical beliefs—I think to slam that or to illegalize on the basis that there is no hard evidence would actually call into question many forms of interventions for different kinds of psychological disorder.
So what I’m saying is I think there are good therapists who work with people based upon that person’s point of view, and I think that in a free society, there should be a freedom for a person to find a clinical advocate to pursue his or her ethical goals. If there is coercion, if there is manipulation, or if there is control—of course, it’s diabolical, regardless of your faith.
A “good person” such as tea Party Rep. Michelle Bachman, who runs an “ex-gay” clinic with her husband. Here’s a Truth Wins Out expose:
But this is just the start. Geoff Kors, who is now with NCLR, has been focusing on exporting this bill to other states:
NCLR has been working closely with Garden State Equality and legislators in New Jersey on legislation to ban these dangerous and abusive treatments. We are determined to expand this ban to as many states as possible and end this outrageous practice.
Steven Goldstein, Chair of Garden State Equality, says:
This is one of the great landmark laws for our movement. I say this as someone obsessed with marriage equality, to be sure – this is one of the ways Geoff Kors, the former longtime head of Equality California who is now with the National Center for Lesbian Rights, laid the groundwork for a movement that does not focus exclusively to marriage equality for cutting-edge change. This law is a vehicle, among others California has pioneered, that prepares our movement for a post-marriage equality era where we don’t all wake up after it’s won nationally and say, what’s next?
We are very excited to be working with Geoff, Shannon and everyone else at NCLR on this bill in New Jersey, where one of our openly LGBT legislators, Assemblyman Dr. Tim Eustace, will introduce it soon.