Religious conservatives continue to use a straw man to oppose pediatric conversion therapy bans. There is no evidence that conversion therapy, in any form, is safe and effective.

Roger K. Gannam
Liberty Counsel’s Roger K. Gannam | via YouTube

Roger K. Gannam, who is with Liberty Counsel, an anti-LGBTQ hate group, is in distress over legislation banning pediatric conversion therapy in Virginia. Why are conservative Christians so heavily invested in conversion therapy?

Forgive the rhetorical question. Conversion therapy exists, in part, because it is used to suggest that sexual orientation and gender identity are choices. That preposterous sentiment is then used in attempts to defeat nondiscrimination laws.

Those same conservative Christians are wed to the notion that they have a “right” to discriminate. In fact many assert that they are obliged to discriminate. You would think that nondiscrimination requires people to engage in gay sex.

Familiar rhetoric

Proponents of the legislation allege that so-called “conversion therapy” involves things like shock treatments or lobotomies – but that’s far from the truth, says Gannam.

“They say that’s why we need this kind of law,” he adds. “[But] the reality is that no one is doing shock therapy, no one is putting kids into camps or into therapy coercively or involuntarily – because that simply doesn’t work.”

The above is called a straw man argument. The exaggeration creates a logical fallacy because Gannam fails to address the real argument. There are many reasons that conversion therapy — particularly for minors — is opposed and it has little to do with aversive interventions:

  • Benign conversion therapy does not exist. It is unsafe in any form.
  • There is no peer-reviewed research published to a reputable academic journal in support of efforts to change gender identity or sexual orientation.
  • There is peer-reviewed research published to reputable academic journals with regard to the toxicity of conversion therapy. This article, for example, was published to the Journal of the American Medical Association.
  • There is no evidence that conversion therapy — in any form — is effective.
  • Pediatric conversion therapy implies that a youth should change their sexual orientation or gender identity.
  • When conversion therapy fails, as it inevitably does, people feel like they failed which leads to depression and anxiety that can last a lifetime.
  • When conversion therapy fails, as it inevitably does, parents often falsely believe that their child did not try hard enough or pray enough or wasn’t sufficiently motivated.
  • Under parental pressure, children often feel forced to lie about the efficacy of their therapy. Eventually, when the truth comes out, the family dynamic is irreparably damaged.
  • Conversion therapy denies the scientific reality that the continua of sexual orientation and gender identity are natural variants of human sexuality throughout their spectra, and regardless of where they intersect.
  • Practitioners of conversion therapy have never done the necessary work to document its effectiveness. They prefer to whine. They know that a multi-year follow-up will not be favorable.
  • Conversion therapy often relies on blaming parents for their child’s sexuality which defies medical science.
  • Conversion therapy perpetuates the false idea that LGBTQ people are sick and need to be healed.

I could go on but you get the idea.

“Unconstitutional infringement on frea speach”

In Gannam’s view, these laws are unconstitutional. “They violate the free-speech rights of licensed counselors who simply want to be guided by their client goals,” he argues. “And if that client wants to discuss change or the possibility of change to get rid of unwanted attractions or unwanted identity conflicts, this law says the counselor can’t even have that conversation.”

The Supreme Court has already upheld pediatric conversion therapy bans in Pickup v. Brown and Welch v. Brown by declining to review the cases. Bans on religious counselors would probably be impermissible but professional speech is conduct and subject to regulation.

Grand delusion

According to the attorney, “any licensed counselor will tell you” that if that young person doesn’t want to be there, there’s simply no point in going forward with counseling.

“Because self-autonomy, self-direction is one of the highest ethics in the counseling professions and that, accompanied with informed consent, show why these licensed counselors let a client decide what the goals of therapy should be, and then talk about whatever the client wants to talk about,” says Gannam.

Youth are coerced into conversion therapy. Motivators include shame, parental disapproval, peer disapproval, religious disapproval and, sometimes, direct threats by parents.

Mr. Gannam’s notion that there are ethical conversion therapists is absurd. Every mainstream professional healthcare peer organization has stated its opposition to conversion therapy, in any form (so forget the BS about electric shock, etc).

Furthermore, behavioral health is a science. Science is based on evidence. There is no evidence to support conversion therapy.

Roger Gannam works for Mad Mat Staver, the hate group’s leader. Staver abhors bans on conversion therapy. Some of Staver’s bigotry is predicated on the idea that sexuality can be willed away or prayed away.

Unless and until there is evidence that conversion therapy is safe and effective these bans will grow. Mad Mat better get used to the idea because evidence is unlikely to ever be available.

Up until about ten years ago, many left-handed children were forcibly converted to right-handedness. The results of doing so included bad handwriting, bed-wetting, stuttering, nail biting, shyness and being withdrawn, defiance and provocative behavior, poor concentration, bad memory, reading difficulties, problems with spelling, neurotic personality and physical tiredness.

Handedness is far less consequential than sexuality which is at the core of who we are.

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