By Diane Cooke
In 2015 Barack Obama called for an end to psychiatric therapies that sought to change the sexual orientation of gay, lesbian and transgender youth.
His statement came in response to a petition calling for the cessation of such therapies after a 17-year-old transgender, Leelah Alcorn,(pictured above) committed suicide after being forced to attend conversion therapy.
“The overwhelming scientific evidence demonstrates that conversion therapy, especially when it is practised on young people, is neither medically nor ethically appropriate and can cause substantial harm,” said a White House spokesperson.
“As part of our dedication to protecting America’s youth, this administration supports efforts to ban the use of conversion therapy for minors,” she said.
According to the Human Rights Campaign so-called “conversion therapy,” sometimes known as “reparative therapy,” is a range of dangerous and discredited practices that falsely claim to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.
"Such practices have been rejected by every mainstream medical and mental health organisation for decades, but due to continuing discrimination and societal bias against LGBTQ people, some practitioners continue to conduct conversion therapy. Minors are especially vulnerable, and conversion therapy can lead to depression, anxiety, drug use, homelessness, and suicide," states the website.
As reported in LiveScience, homosexuality is not considered a mental disorder, so the American Psychological Association (APA) does not recommend "curing" same-sex attraction. Instead, societal ignorance, prejudice and pressure to conform to heterosexual desires are the real dangers to gay people's mental health, according to a 1997 statement on "conversion" or "reparative" therapy by the APA.
A 2009 APA task force found that conversion therapies, despite being touted by religious organisations, have little evidence to back them up. A review of studies from 1960 to 2007 found only 83 on the topic, the vast majority of which did not have the experimental muscle to show whether the therapies achieved their stated goals. (Many of the people studied in the early years were court-mandated to take the therapies, adding a coercive element to those outcomes.)
The best-quality studies were more recent and qualitative, the APA task force found, meaning they focused not on the statistical effectiveness of treatment, but of the subjective experience.
"These studies show that enduring change to an individual's sexual orientation is uncommon," the task force wrote in their 2009 report. The participants continued to report same-sex attractions after the conversion therapy, and were not significantly more attracted to the opposite gender.
Robert Heath, chair of the department of psychiatry and neurology at Tulane University, New Orleans, claimed to have cured homosexuality by implanting electrodes into the pleasure centre of the brain.
The patient – codenamed B-19 – was, according to the two academic papers that catalogued the course of the research, a “single, white male of unremarkable gestation and birth” who had been homosexual for five years.
His treatment involved watching heterosexual pornography and having sex with a female prostitute. He went on to have a 10-month relationship with a woman. However, Heath believed that B-19 was more asexual than homosexual to begin with, which throws some doubt on the research.