What is gay conversion therapy?
Is it an analog of drug abuse workshops, with patients sitting in a circle and sharing their feelings? Is it Jungian, examining dreams and image interpretations to dig out some awful truth for why a person's attracted to the same sex? Does it involve a kindly pastor encouraging patients to embrace God's love or a fire-and-brimstone pastor railing against the demonic influences that introduce homosexual impulses?
The truth is, no one knows.
That's because gay conversion therapy doesn't exist in anything but name. Any person or organization can dream up any program and call it gay conversion therapy.
Because homosexuality is no longer recognized as a mental illness, there are no legitimate psychological treatment plans for people who want to rid themselves of the "wrong" of same-sex attraction. There's no evidence it actually works or that people can be "converted" into heterosexuals in the first place.
What we do know is that so-called gay conversion therapy can be disastrous to a young person's developing psyche and sense of self-esteem. These are already-fragile people who don't receive support from their families. If they did, they wouldn't be sitting in a chair in some clinic, listening to an evangelical pastor or layperson drone on about bunk science.
Homosexuality as a "neurosis" was removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 1973.
Anyone who doubts that gay conversion therapy is arbitrary, without roots in science, should take a few minutes to watch comedian Sasha Baron Cohen, in character as "gay Austrian TV reporter Bruno," interviewing a pastor who runs a gay conversion clinic. Cohen runs down a list of potentially "gay" behavior, and asks the pastor to weigh in:
Cohen: "Watching Will and Grace?"
Pastor: "It's ungodly."
Cohen: "Being fabulous?"
Pastor: "That's an effeminate lifestyle. That's forbidden by God's word."
Cohen: "Eating brunch?"
Pastor: "If you're eating brunch with Christian friends and there's no one around who's going to seduce you into sin, it's okay."
Cohen: "Eating very, very chocolaty stuff all the time?"
Pastor: "If in fact you're doing that because it's part of a homosexual lifestyle, [then no]. If you're eating chocolate dessert after a meal and you're doing it in the fellowship of Christian friends, [it's okay]."
Who knew eating brunch and chocolate could lead gay teenagers on the path to sin and hellfire? The clip is as sad as it is hilarious.
Thankfully, lawmakers in Hawaii recognize the harm that gay conversion therapy can do to vulnerable teenagers, and are taking steps to outlaw the controversial practice in the state. That would bring the state's law in line with accepted medical practice and professional guidelines for psychiatrists, which warn that gay conversion therapy can push teens toward suicide, depression and drug use, the Associated Press reports.
"Really, it's a subtle form of child abuse," the University of Hawaii's Camaron Miyamoto told AP. "The violence isn't seen on the outside, but it's felt for a lifetime."
The bill would prohibit "teachers and persons who are licensed to provide professional counseling from engaging in or advertising sexual orientation change efforts on students and persons under eighteen years of age," KHON reports.
If passed, Hawaii would join California, Oregon, New Jersey and Illinois in outlawing conversion therapy.
“It would affect anybody to be told: ‘You’re wrong. You’re not like the others. You’re different,’ in a negative [way],” the Life Foundation's Monoiki Ah Neeban told KHON. “The forced perception on the child is 'You’re wrong.' It’s going to be damaging.”