The American Medical Association (AMA) has voted to support state and federal efforts to ban gay conversion therapy, the scientifically discredited practice of attempting to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
According to The Trevor Project, “Conversion therapists use a variety of shaming, emotionally traumatic or physically painful stimuli to make their victims associate those stimuli with their LGBTQ identities.”
In its press statement, the AMA said it had heard testimony, including first-hand accounts from people who had been victims of the practice regarding the range of harmful effects of conversion therapy, including depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and suicidal thoughts and attempts.
A July 2019 study from the Williams Institute at UCLA revealed that more than 700,000 LGBTQ people between the ages of 18 and 59 were subjected to conversion therapy — more than 350,000 as minors. The study projected an estimated 80,000 LGBTQ youth would be subjected to the practice in the next few years.
An additional July 2019 study focused solely on trans persons, found 42 percent of those who had undergone conversion therapy for gender identity had attempted suicide after the treatment.
A 2019 poll by Ipsos and Reuters found more than 50 percent of Americans said they would support a law that bans mental health practitioners from practicing conversion therapy on minors.
No state has outlawed conversion therapy for both adults and minors, but 18 states banned the practice on minors, including New Jersey, which was the first to ban the practice in 2013, and Delaware, which banned it in 2018. Also, numerous cities and municipalities prohibit conversion therapy on minors. Philadelphia banned the practice for minors in 2017.
The AMA is a professional group that publishes research to advance public health, and their mission statement stipulates that the AMA is a “powerful ally in patient care...dedicated to driving medicine toward a more equitable future, removing obstacles that interfere with patient care.”
In a statement, Dr. William E. Kobler, an AMA board member, said, “It is clear to the AMA that conversion therapy needs to end in the United States, given the risk of deliberate harm to LGBTQ people.”
Kobler asserted, “Conversion therapy has no foundation as scientifically valid medical care and lacks credible evidence to support its efficacy or safety.”
The impact of the AMA vote could be significant. Medical licensing is done in the states, so the AMA working in tandem with state legislators could achieve more statewide bans on the practice. But under the Trump administration, support for religious freedom laws has made it easier for therapists, parents and guardians to claim conversion therapy is a matter of religious freedom.
Vice President Mike Pence and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos are supporters of conversion therapy. As a congressman Pence, sought funding for the practice. DeVos’s father, Edgar Prince, co-founded an anti-LGBTQ hate group in the U.S., the Family Research Council, long a supporter of conversion therapy, which DeVos has supported financially.
There are concerns over therapists using religious freedom laws to side-step bans. In September, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia hosted and co-sponsored a conference “to address the challenges of gender and sexual identity problems” featuring an anti-gay group focused on conversion therapy and “curing” homosexuality.
The conference, “Gender Matters - Fighting for the Integrity of Persons,” featured Desert Stream Ministries (DSM), run by “ex-gay” leader Andrew Comiskey, who refers to himself as a former and healed homosexual in his books and ministry.
“Historically, medical professionals have contributed to the stigmatization of LGBTQ individuals, so the AMA’s active involvement in LGBTQ health advocacy is incredibly important,” Dr. Alexis Chavez, medical director for The Trevor Project, said in a statement. “The AMA’s support for ending conversion therapy furthers the work that The Trevor Project is doing across the country with our 50 Bills 50 States campaign to protect LGBTQ youth from this dangerous and discredited practice.”
Lauren Cox, Deputy Communications Director for the Office of the Mayor in Philadelphia, told PGN, “The American Medical Association’s recent support for a federal ban on conversion therapy is encouraging. For too long, this practice has been used against members of the LGBTQ+ community — particularly youth — to cause deliberate harm.”
Cox noted, “While we are lucky that Philadelphia outlawed conversion therapy for minors in 2017, it is still possible for parents and other caretakers to travel outside of city limits and subject LGBTQ+ youth to this dangerous practice.”
In October, Pennsylvania’s two out gay legislators, Malcolm Kenyatta and Brian Sims, both representing Philadelphia, re-introduced legislation to ban conversion therapy in Pennsylvania.
Cox said, “Members of Philadelphia’s delegation in Harrisburg have been advocating for a similar ban across the Commonwealth, and we applaud those efforts as well.”
Kenyatta told reporters in Harrisburg, “We have to ensure that practices like conversion therapy are banned in the Commonwealth, so young people, in particular, don’t have to live with this pain and this trauma.”
Cox added, “There is no excuse for a harmful practice, with no foundation in science, to be allowed to continue anywhere in this country.”