First of all, I would like to commend California for being the first state to pass a bill that will ban gay-conversion therapy for minors. Gay-conversion therapy, also known as reparative therapy, pray the gay away or ex-gay treatments, is therapy administered to people in order to change their sexual orientation or gender expression.
This bill will ban parents or guardians from putting their children through therapy which has shown to increase depression rates and suicides. Although homosexuality was removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM, in 1986, parents continue to pursue conversion therapy as a method of dealing with their child’s sexual orientation or gender expression. Whether this treatment is sought after because of phobia or ignorance of gender and sexuality is unclear. But what is clear is that these treatments are only a symptom of a larger disease affecting this country — a lack of education and concern for people with different sexualities or gender expressions.
Since 1986, homosexuality has been removed from being known as a psychological disorder. This means that therapists, guardians and parents who have continued to put their children through conversion therapy, which in some cases involve electroshock therapy, did so because either they believe they know more than the DSM and still believe homosexuality is a disorder, are protecting their children or are uncomfortable with homosexuality and want it gone. Yes, there are people with egos who believe they can cure anything. Yes, being homosexual in this country is still difficult, with higher rates of depression, suicides and homelessness. But more importantly, homosexuality is still perceived to be immoral. Because of this, minors across this country are being subjected to cruel punishment involving conversion therapy, which makes them feel lesser than what they really are, broken or sick.
What this bill will do is ban minors from being subjected to one form of institutionalized punishment. But what this bill will not do is protect minors from punishment inside the home. This bill will not magically make homosexuality moral. Parents and guardians will continue to see their child as broken, only now they will not be able to send them anywhere. There has been debate of whether or not this bill is interfering with parental rights over their children. To those people I say this. A parent or guardian does not have the right to subject his or her child to cruel and unusual punishment just because he or she feels that there is something wrong with his or herchild.
What this bill can do is open up productive conversations and alternative ways of parents and guardians’ interacting with their homosexual or gender-nonconforming children. If not, there are still social services to aid in this process. Furthermore, this bill can spark conversations as to why homosexuals and gender nonconformists are still being dehumanized in this so-called civilized country.
Although the acceptance, not tolerance, of homosexuality and gender nonconformists is still on the horizon, this bill is a step in the right direction. Not only does this bill shed light on a barbaric practice that has been going on under our noses — this bill can be used as a means of opening up the conversation of homosexuality to one that is not limited to gay marriage or don’t ask don’t tell policies. Now, a discussion of safety can be had. Now, a discussion of education can be had. It is now time to have these uncomfortable conversations. To look inward as to why we as a state and as a country have allowed these practices to go on for so long — and more importantly — to begin to imagine new, healthy ways of co-existing where difference is not seen as bad or wrong but is appreciated. California has taken this first step. It is now up to us to continue moving forward.
Felipe Flores is the board director of UC Berkeley Queer Alliance and Resource Center.
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