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Op-Ed: The Humanity, Legality, and Science Behind Gay Conversion Therapy


Op-Ed: The Humanity, Legality, and Science Behind Gay Conversion Therapy

David Ruff

Should religious practices aimed at abusing gay children remain legal in a country founded upon freedom? In gay conversion camps--often presented as loving Christian camps-- adults abuse lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex children mentally and physically. These conversion camps pose as a helpful place where children find their “true” identity; when in fact, children are trained to hate themselves, associating their identity with sin. The mental abuse inflicted upon conversion therapy victims lasts a lifetime. With gay conversion camps being illegal in only 16 states, this issue is not only one of morality but represents the institutionalized homophobia in law and government. Gay conversion therapy should be made illegal as its principles, practices, and results are unethical.

Everyday gay citizens are ostracized in the eyes of society and the law for simply who they love. Furthermore, the mental and physical hostility experienced exponentially increases when a gay citizen enters the doors of a conversion facility. Lawmakers must ask themselves if it is truly moral to limit one’s human rights due to their sexuality. Victims -- from 19th century to present day -- have experienced cruel and unusual practices aimed towards eradicating their “disease” of homosexuality. According to, victims experience a wide range of unethical treatments such as talk/hypnosis therapy, electroshock therapy, electrical shocks to the genitals (when sexually reacting to homosexual pornography or images of their loved ones), testical transplants, and in some extreme cases -- lobotomies ( Severe involuntary treatments, in most cases performed on minors, in an effort to treat homosexuality like a disease (the American Psychiatric Association has denounced homosexuality as a disease for over 45 years) are a violation of one’s human rights. Gay conversion facilities should be illegal as they dehumanize people and leave lingering traumatic damage. Moreover, a report by the Journal of Medical Regulation states that conversion victims, “... 8.4 times more likely to have attempted suicide, 5.9 times more likely to report depression, and 3.4 times more likely to have tried illegal drugs when compared to individuals who did not feel rejected.” (Jack Drescher, MD; et al). This depicts how the intense rejection of one’s identity amplified by conversion practices result in a detrimental aftermath. However, due to the secretive destructive nature of such facilities and their victims it is impossible to record all the rates of unfortunate events. In light of this, many victims have come out to share their stories to shift the narrative in the forms of testimonies, interviews, novels, and movies. For example, as stated in the Guardian, Matthew Sherka notes his experiences at four different conversion facilities and said, “I knew that my feelings were not going away. I blamed myself; I wasn’t trying hard enough. My depression was serious. I gained 60lbs. I felt suicidal all the time.” (Chitra Ramaswamy). Sherka additionally was not allowed to talk to his female relatives for several years, including his mother and sister, as the camps claimed that they had an influence over his feminine demeanor and homosexual urges.  Sherka is one of nearly (an estimated) 700,000+ reported living victims of gay conversion facilities allowed to practice in 34 states, currently. When one’s human rights are on the line, the law should protect all citizens despite their status of sexuality, as such neglect is a violation of civil and moral rights.

The modern media and pop culture is on the forefront of informing the public of the antiquated and unethical practices of conversion therapy, and as a result, law makers. The media is making the unheard, heard by not allowing society to perpetuate and normalize victims as voiceless. Credible television and online news outlets, autobiographical novels turned popular films, and famous stars have denounced conversion therapy practices through compelling personal accounts accompanied by polarizing facts and/or statistics. Namely, Boy Erased, is a novel about Jared Eamons, an Arkansas college student who is an ardent athlete and passionate writer -- he is also gay. In the midst of accepting himself, Eamon experiences a failed adolescent heterosexual relationship, rape by a male student, neglect from his family, and ostracization from the church. As a result of Eamon’s coming out, his frantic parents enroll Eamon in gay conversion therapy facility. Eamon attends the “Love in Action” program which is gradually abusive through stern dogmatic religious rhetoric and physical action. Jared Eamon finds his own self-love despite the trauma he experienced (Conley, Boy Erased). To attract awareness to the multifaceted societal issues depicted in the Boy Erased novel, a film was released in November 2018 with a star-studded cast. Proclaimed film legend Nicole Kidman, rookie Lucas Hedges, alongside LGBTQ+ activist and sought-after pop vocalist Troy Sivan make up the characters disseminating Jared Eamon’s story. Similarly, the film The Miseducation of Cameron Post adapted from the eponymous novel by Emily Danforth, stars Chloe Grace Moretz, and shares the same goal as Boy Erased -- to call the public’s attention to the immoral prejudicial actions thrusted upon victims of conversion therapy. Moretz calls the film “a piece of art and activism” (MSNBC). Additionally, Hollywood has not stopped in their efforts to eradicate conversion therapy. Recently in the past two months, Imagine Dragons gave a powerful speech condemning conversion practices at the Billboard awards; while Taylor Swift has donated $113,000 in support of gay rights groups after a myriad of anti-gay bills were passed in her hometown of Tennessee -- a state that supports conversion therapy. Swift even posted on Instagram in support of gay rights during the Midterm Elections of 2018 to urge her 112 million followers to vote for Democratic candidates in her home state. As reported by the Washington Post, a surge of nearly 169,000 newly registered voters occurred in Tennessee after said singular post, shifting the prominent red state to blue (Amy Wang). As a result of the progressive push for the abolition of conversion practices from collectively all areas of mass media, 11 states have banned conversion therapy since 2017 out of the current 16 states who have banned conversion therapy (U.S. News). Americans’ values unequivocally align with supporting gay citizens as equals, however; the law lacks the representation of such modern values. When actors, singers, and artists with massive followings influence their fan base to take action with their local representatives -- exponential change occurs.

The dubious science underlying conversion therapy consists of no substance. Unlicensed therapists and self-proclaimed religious authorities scapegoat gay children in order to fulfill their own nefarious endeavors. Prominent scientific and mental health organizations castigate the empirical reasoning behind gay conversion practices. The American Psychiatric Association, “opposes any psychiatric treatment such as reparative or conversion therapy which is based upon the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder or based upon the a priori assumption that a patient should change his/her sexual homosexual orientation.”  Additionally, The American Academy of Pediatrics has stated: “Therapy directed at specifically changing sexual orientation is contraindicated, since it can provoke guilt and anxiety while having little or no potential for achieving changes in orientation.”, while The Pan American Health Organization, a regional office of the World Health Organization, has stated that these practices “lack medical justification and represent a serious threat to the health and well-being of affected people.” (National Center for Lesbian Rights). The only thing gay conversion therapy scientifically yields is mental trauma. There is no scientific evidence supporting gay conversion practices; exhibiting American government and laws are run by stigmatized tenets. Governance should be based upon moral imperatives and scientific reasoning not unreliable religious-based abhorrent dogma. Federal laws must evolve with the current societal enlightenment of equal human rights.

As social norms overwhelmingly mature from rudimentary ideologies; the law must reflect society’s strides for basic human rights. With no scientific reasoning, unethical practices, and traumatic results, the law should protect prospective conversion therapy victims. As gay citizens are deprived of basic human rights, the law must evaluate if such excruciating circumstances violate the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as Title VII prohibits no discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation (House of Representatives). According to the New York Times, “Chief Judge Robert A. Katzmann concluded that ‘sexual orientation discrimination is motivated, at least in part, by sex and is thus a subset of sex discrimination.’” as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg also notes, “Congress may design legislation to governing changing times and circumstances... Words in statutes can enlarge or contract their scope as other changes, in law or in the world, require their application to new instances or make old applications anachronistic” (Adam Liptak) . Treating gay people as second class citizens violates civil rights law while subsequently encouraging damaging outdated doctrine. If the law allows gay minors to be involuntarily harmed, where can the line be drawn for further impairment of marginalized groups? With the Equality Act -- an act that would grant gay citizens equal rights nationwide -- currently being reviewed, social and legal change are closer than ever before. Lawmakers must abolish partisanship in relation to injustices to gay citizens as a whole -- eradicating gay conversion therapy as their first step -- in order to restore public faith in governance. Gay conversion therapy is unscrupulous in every aspect of its entity; laws supporting such practices must be repealed through intensive law reform. Even in states where conversion therapy is illegal, non-licensed religious leaders and faith-based counselors are allowed to continue to perform on minors as religion is used as an untouchable front. Religion-based law is a slippery slope as it is used for advancements in inequitable treatment of minorities. There is no separation between church and state in regards to laws encompassing homosexual laws — fundamentally violating America’s principles. Right-winged lawmakers must favor morality over prejudice and sectarianism to protect gay minors and citizens against unethical antiquated practices.

The law is the framework for widespread social change; in times of great dissolution progressive movements must lead instead of bigotry. Being gay is not a choice and the assertion that children can be structurally changed is dangerous. Society needs to stop designing to hyper-uniformity and heteronormativity by disregarding diversity in all facets. Gay conversion therapy must be obliterated legally due to its iniquitous execution and fundamental creation. Conversion therapy torments homosexual minors mentally and physically with extreme negative corollary. Implementing hate within youth and dividing families are only the surface level issues that conversion therapy presents. The conversation needs to be changed on a broader spectrum. The law views homosexual citizens as unequals to their heterosexual counterparts in society. Even with recent progressions in law reform, gay citizens can still be legally discriminated across the nation in restaurants, places of work, adoption agencies, and in marriage licensing - to name a few. Gay conversion therapy is one of the utmost pressing issues in regard to the oppression of gay citizens as its primitive nature intends to mentally and physically harm LGBTQ+ adolescents. The abrogation of gay conversion therapy nationwide is the catalyst the country needs to defeat intolerance caused by the current and pre-existing political, social, and legal climate.

Cited Sources

“Actress Chloe Grace Moretz on New Film: It's a Form of Activism.” MSNBC, NBCUniversal News Group,

“Born Perfect: The Facts About Conversion Therapy.” National Center for Lesbian Rights, 8 Nov. 2018,

Conley, Garrard. Boy Erased: a Memoir. William Collins, 2018.

Danforth, Emily M. The Miseducation of Cameron Post. Balzer + Bray, 2018.

Leins, Casey. “States That Have Banned Conversion Therapy.” U.S. News & World Report, U.S. News & World Report, 11 Apr. 2019,

Liptak, Adam. "Supreme Court to Decide Whether Bias Law Covers Gay and Transgender Workers." The New York Times. 22 Apr. 2019. The New York Times. 03 May 2019 <>.

McGeorge, Christi R., et al. “An Exploration of Family Therapists' Beliefs about the Ethics of Conversion Therapy: The Influence of Negative Beliefs and Clinical Competence With Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Clients.” Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd (10.1111), 30 July 2013,

Ramaswamy, Chitra. “'I Still Have Flashbacks': the 'Global Epidemic' of LGBT Conversion Therapy.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 8 Aug. 2018,

Ryan, Patrick. “What Happens in Gay Conversion Therapy? 'Cameron Post,' 'Boy Erased' Show Scary Reality.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 3 Aug. 2018,

Silman, Anna. “8 People on Surviving Gay Conversion Therapy.” The Cut, The Cut, 10 Aug. 2018,

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 03 May 2019 <>.

Wang, Amy B. “Taylor Swift's Endorsement of Democrats Is Followed by a Spike in Voter Registrations.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 9 Oct. 2018,