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Editorial: Conversion Therapy Ban is the right move to protect Maine’s LGBTQ adolescents

On April 10, the Maine State Committee on Health Coverage, Insurance and Financial Services held a public hearing on a new bill titled “An Act To Prohibit the Provision of Conversion Therapy to Minors by Certain Licensed Professionals.” This bill, if passed, would rightfully add Maine to the list of states that have banned conversion therapy practice on minors.

In their adolescent years, children and teens are extremely sensitive to the messages they receive about who they are when they are working through finding and developing their own identities. But for LGBTQ individuals, the messages they hear are not always supportive. In a world struggling to become more inclusive, those growing up in the LGBTQ community will often hear that their identities are valid and wrong and that they need to change what they believe in order to fit in with society’s standards.

These harmful and unsupportive messages come to a peak in the form of conversion therapy — a practice that is founded on the belief that homosexuality or the desire to change genders is a sign of a mental disorder, and can be fixed by various practices or treatments. Yet this statement has been scientifically proven false, and conversion therapy has actually led to increased suicide risks and real, harmful, mental illnesses in LGBTQ adolescents and adults.

A study published in the Journal of Homosexuality in 2018 interviewed and conducted various mental health status tests on over 200 LGBTQ individuals. Participants who reported having their parents attempt to change their sexual orientation when in their adolescent years were found to be three times more likely to be at risk for attempting suicide. Individuals whose parents enlisted the help of a professional, such as a therapist or religious leader, were found to be five times more likely to be at risk for attempting suicide.

The study, titled “Parent-Initiated Sexual Orientation Change Efforts With LGBTQ Adolescents: Implications for Young Adult Mental Health and Adjustment,” stated in its conclusion that “attempts to change sexual orientation during adolescence were associated with elevated young adult depressive symptoms and suicidal behavior, and with lower levels of young adult life satisfaction, social support, and socioeconomic status.”

Studies such as this one published in the Journal of Homosexuality provide sound proof that conversion therapy does not work the way it is intended, but instead serves as a harmful and torturous process that harshly damages the social, physical and mental future of LGBTQ individuals.

Only 16 states across the country currently have a ban on conversion therapy in place, including all of New England, outside of Maine. In the other 34 states, a study conducted by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law estimated that 350,000 LGBTQ adolescents and another 698,000 adults have experienced some form of conversion therapy. Moving forward, as states continue to allow this terrible treatment, the Williams Institute predicts that another 20,000 LGBTQ youth will receive conversion therapy from a health professional before they reach adulthood. That number increases to 57,000 if therapy administered by religious or spiritual advisors is considered.

As a group that is already marginalized, attacked and criticized, the LGBTQ community should not be forced to endure additional injustices targeted at demonizing their identity. The American Psychological Associated released a report in 2009 that outlined various techniques conversion therapists perform on their patients. This includes “inducing nausea, vomiting, or paralysis while showing the patient homoerotic images; providing electric shocks; having the individual snap an elastic band around the wrist when aroused by same-sex erotic images or thoughts using shame to create aversion to same-sex attractions; orgasmic reconditions; and satiation therapy. Other techniques include trying to make patients’ behavior more stereotypically feminine or masculine, teaching heterosexual dating skills, using hypnosis to try to redirect desires and arousal, and other techniques — all based on the scientifically discredited premise that being LGBT is a defect or disorder.”

While some of these methods are less shocking or extreme than others, they all pose serious dangers, especially to minors who may be forced into the treatments against their will by their parents, guardians or religious leaders.

The sponsor of the Maine bill, Rep. Ryan Fecteau, Democrat from Biddeford, used his own experiences in enduring conversion therapy to drive the bill forward. The Portland Press Herald reported Fecteau stating how “he was driven into a deep depression with suicidal thoughts by a trusted Adviser’s recommendation that he seeks ‘reparative therapy’ because he was gay.”

The bill also has bipartisan support from members of the Maine House and Senate, and various Maine organizations such as the Maine Medical Association, Maine Nurse Practitioner Association, Maine Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Maine Council of Churches, Equality Maine and the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine.

The Maine government has an opportunity with this new bill to stand with the LGBTQ community, show their support, and prove to its citizens that it will not tolerate hatred, torture or injustices against any of its citizens, no matter their orientations. We had this opportunity in the past when a bill to ban conversion therapy was sent to Gov. Paul LePage’s office in 2018, but the process was stopped short when Gov. LePage wrongfully vetoed the measure.  While over 100 testimonies were heard in Wednesday’s public hearing, the bill still needs to be passed out of committee, approved in the House and the Senate, and signed by Gov. Mills. Reach out to your local representative and urge them to support banning conversion therapy, and urge them to ensure the rightful safety of all our LGBTQ youths.

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