D.C. moves to ban gay conversion therapy among minors

Gay pride flags flying at the US Supreme Court on March 27, 2013 in Washington, DC.
Gay pride flags flying at the US Supreme Court on March 27, 2013 in Washington, DC.

The Council of the District of Columbia has passed a bill banning mental health providers from offering so-called gay “conversion therapy” to minors, positioning the nation’s capital to become just the third jurisdiction in the U.S. where it is illegal to perform the medically discredited practice of trying to turn gay people straight.

By a unanimous vote Tuesday, the 13-member D.C. Council moved to advance a measure imposing discipline and penalties against anyone who provides conversion therapy, also known as reparative therapy, to children under 18. Washington, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and Congress must review the bill before it can become law.

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Though medical experts have deemed conversion therapy psychologically damaging and ineffective, only two states -- California and New Jersey -- ban the practice among minors. Both the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association have condemned such “therapies,” which have been linked to increased anxiety, depression and, in some cases, suicide for those who have undergone them.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) says that as many as one in three LGBT people have been subjected to some form of conversion therapy. Through its #BornPerfect campaign, the group is working to end conversion therapy nationwide within the next five years.

“[T]he DC Council sent a powerful message to LGBT youth and their families that they are accepted, supported, and loved,” said Samantha Ames, NCLR staff attorney and coordinator of the #BornPerfect campaign, in a statement. “The Council has used its authority to protect our most vulnerable youth from dangerous and discredited pseudoscience that tells them who they are is wrong, and reaffirmed the consensus of every major medical and mental health organization that all children are born perfect, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Ames testified about the dangers of conversion therapy before the United Nations Committee Against Torture (CAT) in Geneva last month. It was the first time that the issue had been raised as a potential violation of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Less than a week after that UN meeting, former conversion therapy leader John Smid married his same-sex partner in Oklahoma. Smid served as director of Love in Action, a Christian ministry that offers conversion therapy to kids, and spent 11 years on the board of Exodus International, another Christian ministry that sought to “cure” people of their same-sex attraction. Exodus shut down last year, and its leader apologized to the gay community for causing “pain and hurt.”