Conversion Therapy and the Trouble with “Parent’s Rights”

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On October 3, 2017, Miami-Dade commissioners missed their opportunity to join 9 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and 27 other jurisdictions that have all banned “conversion therapy” for minors when they rejected an ordinance to ban the discredited form of “therapy” in their own county on the grounds that the new law would infringe on a “parent’s right” to make decisions about “a child’s mental health.”

Of course I agree, at least on principle, that parents have the right to raise their children any way they please, even if those methods seem to contradict my own beliefs. What goes on in another family home is out of my  personal terrain; certainly, it should be out of the terrain of government. However, we already understand that even within a family unit there are limits. Corporal punishment is a crime; parents cannot beat or molest their children, lock them in the basement, deprive them of food and water. Implicitly understood is the belief that parents should love their children and protect them from harm.

As someone who has lived through six years of “conversion therapy,” I don’t need “experts” to tell me what I now know for myself about the dangers of this type of “treatment.” I now understand, for example, that so-called “conversion therapy“ caused me prolonged depression, anxiety, and flashbacks to the “therapy” in which my former psychiatrist berated and shamed me about something that I could not change—my same-sex erotic desires—in an effort to convince me that I really was heterosexual. An incident of childhood sexual abuse had “caused” my erroneous belief that I was homosexual, he repeatedly told me, so years of primal scream therapy, combined with near fatal doses of various psychiatric medications and weekly injections of ketamine hydrochloride would all “correct” my sexual orientation. But sexual abuse does not make a person homosexual any more than it makes a person heterosexual, I now understand, and shaming anyone about their sexuality, regardless of its orientation, will never help “change” them into something that they’re not; all it will do is increase their shame about who they are already. 

But let’s just say, for argument’s sake, that I hadn’t lived through this “therapy,” and that I did need an “authority figure” to tell me what is “healthy” from what is “unhealthy.”

Virtually every leading health organization has denounced efforts to “change” sexual orientation, and reaffirmed that attempts to do so could result in serious health risks. Even The World Health Organization has written that, “‘Reparative’ or ‘conversion therapies’ have no medical indication and represent a severe threat to the health and human rights of the affected persons. They constitute unjustifiable practices that should be denounced and subject to adequate sanctions and penalties.”

My local grocery store would immediately remove from their shelves any product suspected of being contaminated with salmonella, or any other poisonous bacteria. Over the years, Johnson & Johnson has recalled their product Tylenol because of serious health risks to consumers. In both cases, “parents” would have never been consulted as to whether or not the recall or removal might infringe on their right to still use that product on their children.

Maybe because these products are external to us, whereas sexuality is within, and parents think, perhaps even rightly so, they have a responsibility to help mold their children’s self into who and what they think it should become—some parents still seem to confuse the removal of access to something called “conversion therapy” with an infringement on their “rights.” We need to make several things clear. “Conversion therapy” is not the same as talking about one’s sexuality—in or out of a family home, with or without the aid of a counselor. “Conversion therapy” is a soul-crushing infringement on any person's fundamental human rights that has less to do with “changing” sexual orientation, in fact, than it does with eradicating homosexuality from the bodies of people who are gay. Killing turns out to be as easy as “therapy.” Those who do “succeed” and claim to have “changed,” I’m convinced, go on to live in a permanent state of depersonalization while retaining the facade of “heterosexuality” (pairing with an opposite sex partner), but nothing about their erotic desires ever really “changes,” not really.

Banning “conversion therapy” for minors does not infringe on any parent’s rights. Banning “conversion therapy” removes from “store shelves,” and thereby prevents parents from accessing, a “product” that virtually every leading health organization has denounced and reaffirmed as not only ineffective, but as “a severe threat to the health and human rights of the affected persons,” namely children.

Wouldn't any good, loving parent want that?