BBA Protects Individual Rights, Opposes Conversion Therapy

We are proud to announce here that the BBA Council recently voted unanimously to support H.97: An Act relative to abusive practices to change sexual orientation and gender identity in minors.  Read our press release here.  This is only the latest step in the BBA’s long history of advocacy to assure equality and individual rights, including supporting the 1989 “Gay Rights Bill” and working with the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition on the Transgender Equal Rights Bill which was enacted in 2012.  We are also proud of our longstanding relationship with the LGBTQ Bar Association, which has enjoyed affinity bar status at the BBA for over 20 years.

What is Conversion/Reparative Therapy?

Also called ex-gay therapy or sexual orientation change efforts, these are all various “treatments” that purport to change sexual orientation and gender identity based on the scientifically discredited premise that being LGBTQ is a psychological defect or disorder.  The techniques associated with conversion therapy are often violent (e.g., electric shocks, induced nausea or vomiting) and psychologically damaging.  Furthermore, the American Psychological Association (APA) has long held that gender identity and sexual orientation are at the core of who we are as individuals; they are not mental disorders. Treating them as such runs against best practices in medicine. In fact, a 2007 APA task force report found not only clear evidence that conversion therapy does not work, but also some significant evidence that it is harmful.

As a result, medical and child welfare experts nationally and locally have condemned conversion therapy, declaring it ineffective, physically and mentally damaging, and antithetical to the current scientific understanding of gender identity and sexual orientation.  In spite of this, the practice is currently statutorily illegal only in California, New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington, D.C.  Courts in the Third and Ninth Circuits have upheld these bans.

What are we doing about it?

The bill we support, H.97, bars licensed health care professionals from engaging with minors in therapeutic practices aimed at either changing or “healing” the minor’s sexual orientation, in particular same-sex attraction, or eliminating the minor’s sincerely held conviction that their birth assigned gender is different or inappropriate from their actual gender identity.  The bill also requires state mandatory reporters to report suspected incidences of these practices and makes advertising them  a violation of consumer protection laws.

Health care professionals – including licensed social workers, child psychologists, school social workers, therapists and other state-licensed professionals – are expected to assist their clients, in these instances by helping them learn to accept their individual gender identity and sexual orientation, not to cause further harm or suffering. This bill ensures that medical and psychological treatment for our children will follow the highest ethical standards.

Even though we are not aware of these practices currently going on in Massachusetts, there have been some recent news stories of their occurrence in other states, most notably a recent case in New Jersey, Michael Ferguson v. JONAH, wherein a conversion therapy provider was found guilty of committing consumer fraud in a case involving an adult who underwent such treatment.

The Massachusetts bill is formally supported by at least ten groups with interests ranging from child welfare to health care to human rights, including MassEquality.org, GLAD, and the Children’s League of Massachusetts.  In addition, the American Bar Association recently approved a resolution and report recognizing the right of LGBTQ people to be free from attempts to change their sexual orientation or gender identity and urging all federal and state governments to enact laws prohibiting state-licensed professionals from using conversion therapy on minors.

In July, the Boston City Council unanimously passed a resolution supporting the bill, and shortly thereafter it had a public hearing before the Joint Committee on Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities.  At this hearing, 19 people testified in support and 8 people testified in opposition.  The opposition was comprised of concerned individuals and out-of-state groups, such as the Family Research Council (anti-gay-marriage and pro-life organization in Washington, D.C.) and the Florida Alliance of Therapy and Choice.  Supporters included the American Counseling Association, National Association of Social Workers, Boston Children’s Hospital, GLBT Caucus, Massachusetts Health Council, Transgender Political Coalition, and the Anti-Defamation League.  Representative Kay Khan, the bill’s sponsor also testified.  Read her testimony here.

The BBA looks forward to advocating for the passage of H.97, which has already been favorably reported out of the Joint Committee on Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities, and will keep you updated on the bill’s progress.

– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association