NGLTF condemns "conversion" therapies

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) said Aug. 14 that the American Psychological Association (APA) did not go far enough in its vote on a resolution regarding "reparative" or "conversion" therapy, a practice designed to alter the sexual orientation of a non-heterosexual person. The APA Council of Representatives meeting this week in Chicago voted overwhelmingly to pass a "resolution on appropriate therapeutic responses to sexual orientation."

The resolution affirmed that homosexuality is not a mental disorder and that the APA opposes all portrayals of lesbian, gay and bisexual people as mentally ill and in need of treatment due to their sexual orientation. However, it stopped short of calling for an end to conversion treatments. Task Force executive director Kerry Lobel, in a letter to APA, had urged the organization to condemn the practice.

"Attempts to change an individual's sexual orientation through conversion therapies are morally and ethically wrong," said Lobel. "Such practices are a therapeutic perpetuation of the homophobia that exists in society today. Equally repugnant are the coercive tactics employed by some psychologists who attempt to lure clients into treatment in the name of pseudo-science."

"The real victims of those misguided therapies are clients attempting to bear the weight of homophobia in society and within their own families," she argued. "As they seek counseling, they should experience self-validation and support for living a healthy and full life regardless of their sexual orientation. While some adults may give their consent to conversion therapy, many are coerced into doing so. The most vulnerable are young people at the mercy of confused parents or adult guardians seeking to erase their own shame or guilt about their child's sexual orientation. Allowing conversion treatments to remain a viable option assures that many will endure potentially costly, painful, and traumatic procedures that could increase rather than relieve suffering."

The APA declassified homosexuality as a mental illness in 1973. Recently, there has been an increase in publicity around the use of conversion therapies to alter homosexuality. For example, a June conference held at Georgetown University provided a forum for such ideologues as Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, head of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, who believes that homosexuality cannot lead to a happy and productive life. Lobel argued that, without a strong APA statement to counter their basic assumptions, their claims gain undeserved weight.

While she commended the APA's reiteration of its 1973 policy change as well as efforts to ensure a fair and open therapeutic environment, Lobel argued that "anything short of full condemnation for this repugnant practice leaves the door open for reparative therapy's further escalation."

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