Fight Against Gay 'Conversion Therapy' Gathers Momentum

The fight against a controversial form of therapy aimed at making gay people straight is gaining some momentum.

Last week, The Southern Poverty Law Center and a Portland, Oregon law firm sent a complaint to two professional psychiatric associations in the state asking them to investigate the use of "conversion therapy" by a Portland psychiatrist. In the complaint they argued that the psychiatrist had tried to change his patient's sexual orientation, against the patient's wishes. The patient, a gay college student, had originally sought treatment for depression and to improve his romantic relationships with men.

The complaint was sent on the same day that California's legislators announced that a bill banning conversion therapy for teenagers was heading towards the state senate. The California bill would ban children under 18 from undergoing the therapy, and require adults to sign a release prior to treatment that states that the counseling is possibly dangerous and ineffective.

"This therapy can be dangerous," said the bill's author Sen. Ted Lieu, according to the Associated Press.

Conservative religious groups support conversion therapy and say California's ban against it would interfere with parents' rights to seek care for their children. The Advocate reported that anti-gay religious leaders like NARTH and the Family Research Counsel have come out against the bill.

David Pickup, who is registered with the California Board of Psychology, told the Associated Press that a ban would deprive resources from people recovering from trauma of sexual abuse. "Any therapist worth his salt knows that homosexual feelings commonly occur in victims as a result of abuses," he said. "I ought to know because I was one of those boys."

The SPLC called on the Oregon Psychiatric Association and the American Psychiatric Association to "take steps to end the practice of conversion therapy." SPLC also launched an online tool that shows users the location of conversion therapists in their vicinity and offers LGBT people a place to share their stories about this therapy.

“LGBT people who seek therapy are vulnerable to these covert attempts by doctors to fix what is not broken," Christine Sun, SPLC deputy legal director, said.

Mainstream mental health organizations -- including the American Psychological Association, the American Counseling Association and American Psychiatric Association -- have spoken out against conversion therapy.

National focus turned to "conversion therapy" last year, after news reports surfaced that former presidential candidate Michele Bachman's husband practiced the therapy at his clinic in Minnesota.