By Ben Gierhart QueerKentucky spoke with Ban Conversion Therapy Kentucky and one of its founders, Tanner Mobley in September of 2019. It’s only been a few short months since then, but already tremendous progress has been made. As of Tuesday, January 14, HB 199 (one can read Representative Lisa Willner’s bill language here: https://apps.legislature.ky.gov/record/20rs/hb199.html) and …
Patti Minter, D-Bowling Green and Lisa Willner, D-Louisville have filed a bill that would ban the practice of conversion therapy in Kentucky. Conversion therapy is a treatment that works to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. If this passes, health professionals won’t be able to practice the therapy regardless of age. Public funds …
Derek Miller Queer is a way to deconstruct the boxes within which I’ve been placed over the course of my life prior to coming out. It can be a tool for unpacking words and actions, analyzing behaviors, or simply making a statement. I often look around and find my queer peers and colleagues living with …
by Ben Gierhart
In 2019, The Trevor Project, the country’s leading organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ young people, conducted a landmark national survey. This first-of-its-kind survey is the compilation of data from the responses of over 34,000 LGBTQ young people under 25 from all 50 states, and the results are sobering. According to the survey, 39 percent of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past twelve months. Seventy-one percent reported feeling sad or hopeless for at least two consecutive weeks in the past year. Two in three LGBTQ youth reported that someone tried to convince them to change their sexual orientation or gender identity, with youth who have undergone conversion therapy more than twice as likely to attempt suicide as those who did not.
In a culture where it’s easy to believe that the worst of heteronormative culture has passed, it is stunning to know that not only is conversion therapy still being practiced, it is still such a devastating and sometimes savage practice. Tanner Mobley, former advocacy intern and director at Ban Conversion Therapy Kentucky, agrees: “Learning that 23 percent of LGBTQ youth who undergo conversion therapy attempt suicide, I felt that I couldn’t wait around for someone to take on the fight to protect Kentucky’s youth from these dangerous practices.”
Prior to joining the campaign for the survey, Mobley admits that he naively believed that conversion therapy was a thing of the past. It wasn’t until he heard Sam Brinton, head of advocacy and government affairs for The Trevor Project, recount his experience with conversion therapy that he learned the truth. In 2017, Mobley and Austin Adam, a friend of Mobley’s who was similarly inspired, reached out to the Fairness Campaign for guidance on submitting legislation.
What started as two co-sponsors on their bill grew to five the following year. “I created a Facebook event for folks interested in forming an organization to protect youth from conversion therapy, and in November 2018 a group of lawyers, mental health professionals, students and faith leaders came together to form Ban Conversion Therapy Kentucky (BCTK),” reports Mobley.
As a result of Mobley and BCTK’s core organizers’ hard work, Representative Lisa Willner and Senator Morgan McGarvey supported BCTK’s bills in 2019 with a record number of 20 House co-sponsors and three Senate co-sponsors.
In the time since BCTK began, the Kentucky Youth Law Project has become BCTK’s fiscal sponsor. With their aid, BCTK has established a board, created a social media presence and started raising awareness on the issue of conversion therapy. BCTK has also successfully gained endorsements from over 50 organizations including the Kentucky Medical Association, the Kentucky Psychological Association, the National Association of Social Workers KY and the Kentucky Mental Health Coalition, all huge wins for the grassroots organization.
BCTK hopes to ride that momentum into the 2020 state legislative session with four years of experience under their belt as well as a host of creative strategies to implement.
One such strategy is the inception of the Ban Conversion Therapy Ambassador program. “Ambassadors help us raise awareness through gathering petition signatures, tabling, gathering data, and other important work,” says Mobley. These positions are available to anyone living in the state of Kentucky who are able to commit one to two hours a week for at least six months.
BCTK’s goals for the future are both logistical and legislative. They are currently seeking to expand their marketing team and bring on a faith organizer to help get Kentucky faith communities involved in their work, a major shot in the arm as the majority of the facilities and institutions that offer conversion therapy are religious or faith-based in some capacity.
Mobley is also optimistic that the latest iteration of the BCTK bill will receive bipartisan support. “…nearly half of the laws passed to protect LGBTQ youth from these harmful practices … were signed by GOP governors, including states like New Mexico, New Hampshire, and Nevada,” he says.
As for the bill itself, per Mobley, “It would prohibit state-licensed mental health professionals from engaging in efforts to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of a young person under 18 years of age in Kentucky.” The language is firm in its aims, but what’s most remarkable about the bill is perhaps what is doesn’t do.
There is nothing in the bill that prohibits competent adults from seeking conversion therapy. BCTK’s position isn’t that they believe conversion therapy is beneficial for adults, but the strategy is that the bill’s specificity may appeal to the values of conservatives who may consider the constitutional right for adults to make their own decisions regarding treatment they believe to be necessary paramount. “Because the danger posed by conversion therapy is great, BCTK is focused on protecting children, youth and vulnerable adults,” adds Mobley.
The tactics involved in conversion therapy range from bizarre to nightmarish. It is an antiquated, ineffective, deadly practice, and it is time that the citizens of Kentucky unite to relegate it to a sad footnote in the history books. With movements like Ban Conversion Therapy Kentucky active in our state, that dream is truly, finally possible.
To learn more about Ban Conversion Therapy Kentucky, apply to become a BCTK Ambassador (applications open on September 15) and donate to the Kentucky Youth Law Project, visit https://banconversiontherapyky.org/.
To read The Trevor Project’s 2019 survey, visit https://www.thetrevorproject.org/survey-2019/?section=Introduction.
The Kentucky Youth Law Project, Inc. has agreed to become the fiscal sponsor of Ban Conversion Therapy Kentucky as of June 1, 2019. A fiscal sponsorship is a formal arrangement in which a 501(c)(3) public charity, like KYLP, sponsors a project that may lack exempt status. This arrangement will allow BCTK to take advantage of KYLP’s tax …
By Chuck Leach, former pastor and counselor
Photo by Adam Creech
We must stop folks from pushing children off the ledge. Conversion therapy (sometimes called “Reparative Therapy”) does exactly that; it pushes children off the ledge by unraveling the underpinnings of self-understanding, acceptance, and personhood.
Conversion therapy was concocted by well-intended but misguided people to extinguish a person’s attraction to the same sex, any acknowledgement of discomfort with the gender to which they were born, or any expression of being that is non-traditional by the conversionist’s standards.
Even though there was no empirical evidence of disease or disorder, psychiatrists Von Schrenk-Notzing, Sigmund Freud, Sandor Rado and others paved the way for the medical world to define a whole set of behaviors as “deviant” on the basis of lying outside the statistical majority. In some parts of the world, being blue-eyed is clearly deviant, yet still does not deserve to be a punishable offense.
Conversion therapy has driven precious young people to suicide and robbed countless others of any joy in life, and even the will to live. “Reparative” therapy, by its very name denotes a broken, flawed person that needs to be fixed. That supposed need to fix has no scientific basis whatsoever. The “fixing” includes shaming, dissuasion and disparagement, social isolation, aversive “treatments” such as electro-shock and other means of associating “unacceptable” thoughts and impulses with pain.
Being a Christian is a choice, but it would be unconscionable to use reparative tactics on a person who chooses to be Christian. It is reprehensible to use reparative tactics on LGBTQ+ folks who are struggling to express who they experience themselves to be.
No matter how much you were pressured or tortured, you probably would not be capable of changing your skin color, gender identity, your religion or whom you love. Neither should young people who are struggling to bring into healthy reality that they experience themselves to be.
I have spent six decades working with people, first as a pastor then as a counselor. I have walked with them as they have struggled with life and death issues as they map out the course of their lives. In formative years, youngsters have to learn how to negotiate the tricky waters of personality and sexuality. These tasks have become infinitely more complex as information and communication have expanded exponentially.
Developing character and finding one’s voice are developmental achievements crucial to becoming effective adults. Reparative therapy methodically and intentionally undercuts those processes by disabling the very mechanisms by which a person establishes their identity and selfhood.
Rarely do we choose whom we feel attraction to. We certainly have choice about what we do with our attraction, but it cannot be punished or reasoned away. Punishment and shame push our feelings and desires underground, but feelings do not go away, by choice or will power.
A person who has never experienced conflict with the role they were given with may never understand the depth of pain of feeling like you are a visitor in your own skin, born into the wrong body.
Conversion Therapy is a misleading name: some call it therapy, but all the reputable therapeutic bodies in America and many other parts of the world have determined these practices to be unfounded and wrong. Countless victims who have been through such experiences affirm the damage they sustained. Only a tiny fraction claims they are successfully “cured.” Of those who do claim success, almost none sustain that success over time.
Some very devout people are convinced that God accepts only people who are accepting of the gender assigned to them at birth [that is, cis-gender individuals], and in their misdirected zeal create hell in the here and now for their targets. They appear blithely unconcerned that the LGBTQ+ population already have a much higher rate of depression and suicide, even without the ridicule and torture of pseudo-therapies.
Religious groups have been at the forefront of the offenders, speaking out of both sides of their mouth, on the one hand saying God loves everybody, but then at the door of the church saying, “Oh, but not you” to anyone not fitting closely within the narrowly defined profile of heterosexual cis-gender folks.
Well-educated ethical therapists have long since given up conversion therapy and designated it as a harmful practice. Robert Spitzer, M.D., was leading developer of the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM (Diagnostic Statistical Manual—the definitive work for naming and classifying mental disorders in the medical world).
In 2012 Dr. Spitzer published his apology for having supported reparative therapy in an earlier insufficiently informed paper. We must bring the laws up to date to make sure no licensed therapist in Kentucky ever again uses the damaging practice of conversion therapy. As understanding and awareness are growing all around the state of Kentucky, we are finding better ways to look after the safety of our children.
At this time fourteen states have established bans on this medieval practice. This year it will be presented again to our Congressional leaders, who have not yet felt enough energy attached to the issue to act. You can help! Learn more at: The Trevor Project.org, and, for action steps, see Ban Conversion Therapy KY and call your representative now and urge support for House Bill 211 and Senate Bill 248 to protect our next generation and those yet to come: ban conversion therapy in Kentucky.
The Kentucky legislative Hotline is 1-800-372-7181.