One of the bills in front of the Oregon House this session is House Bill 2307, the Youth Mental Health Protection Act. In essence, what this does is ban conversion therapy for minors by licensed practitioners. The House Healthcare Committee is currently hearing this bill.
Conversion therapy is defined as practices that purport to either change a person’s sexual orientation, their gender identity or expression, or lessen their same sex sexual desires. This is also sometimes referred to as ‘reparative therapy’.
This one is personal. I will be testifying in support of this bill where I will share my own personal story:
From a very young age, growing up here in Oregon, I knew I was different. I knew I thought differently, saw things in a different way, and felt things differently from everyone else. I also realized that I was more attracted to guys than girls. In my child’s mind, I put these things together and thought that all my differences were due to being gay, and I so much wanted to be like everyone else. When I was in middle school I began hearing about the programs and counselors who vowed they could make someone like me straight. I researched programs through Exodus and read books by licensed psychologists that offered that promise to fix me.
It wasn’t until a few years out of college that I finally connected with a conversion therapy group in Dallas, Texas, where my job had located me. I actively tried to make it work for me, but after countless sessions of heart-wrenching effort over one year I decided that it was not going to happen. I was a failure.
For the next several years, I dove into my career, pretty much completely neglecting anything else in my life. I did try a couple of relationships with guys, but they failed. I could not fully live since I still had so many things that were unresolved. I had done nothing to fix myself.
It wasn’t until more than 15 years later, when I turned 40 years old, that I connected with a new group of ex-gay survivors at beyondexgay.com. I drove down to their first conference in Irvine, California, not knowing what to expect. I enjoyed the conference, but didn’t feel moved by any of it. It wasn’t until my drive back to Oregon when I was flooded with emotions of what had happened, and where I was with my life and how I had shut off a large part of who I was. So, in 2006, I slowly started living.
Since that time, I have been further finding out really who I am and finally, as recently as last year, discovered that the many differences I was trying to fix all those years ago are much more due to living with Asperger’s Syndrome, on the Autism Spectrum.
Through my life and from the stories I have heard in the ex-gay survivor network, I directly see the harm that is caused by conversion therapy. While it is unrealistic to ask for a complete ban of all forms of conversion therapy, it is very important to support this bill that would put an end to the practice of conversion therapy by a licensed professional for minors.
The National Center for Lesbian Rights has been working towards a goal of eliminating conversion therapy in the next five years. From their website, they have documented many years of research about conversion therapy, along with tools for survivors as well as those who want to work to eliminate conversion therapy.
From the NCLR #BornPerfect project:
Conversion therapy can be extremely dangerous and, in some cases, fatal. In 2009, the APA issued a report concluding that the reported risks of the practices include: depression, guilt, helplessness, hopelessness, shame, social withdrawal, suicidality, substance abuse, stress, disappointment, self-blame, decreased self-esteem and authenticity to others, increased self-hatred, hostility and blame toward parents, feelings of anger and betrayal, loss of friends and potential romantic partners, problems in sexual and emotional intimacy, sexual dysfunction, high-risk sexual behaviors, a feeling of being dehumanized and untrue to self, a loss of faith, and a sense of having wasted time and resources.
The risks are even greater for youth. Minors who experience family rejection based on their sexual orientation or gender identity face especially serious health risks. Research shows that lesbian, gay, and bisexual young adults who reported higher levels of family rejection during adolescence were more than eight times more likely to report having attempted suicide, more than five times more likely to report high levels of depression, more than three times more likely to use illegal drugs, and more than three times more likely to report having engaged in unprotected sexual intercourse compared with peers from families that reported no or low levels of family rejection.
When California passed this ban in 2012, the LGBT caucus of the Democratic Party of Oregon passed a resolution to do the same in Oregon. The full DPO State Central Committee followed with a vote in support of the resolution. We have been working with our coalition partners ever since. This is not just important to me, but also important to our LGBT youth.
This law has also passed in New Jersey and the District of Columbia. Oregon will be the third State.